JERUSALEM (Aug. 29)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres both spoke of “significant progress” after meeting in private session this evening to discuss forming a unity government. They said they would meet again at least twice more — on Friday and Sunday — and indicated ‘that’ they were leaving the thorny issues of the Premiership and the allocation of portfolios to the last meeting.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, both major parties were negotiating furiously and desperately with a plethora of smaller parties throughout today. Pundits predicted that the outcome of these behind-the-scenes-talks would shape the outcome of the unity talks.
But as the fragmentary and complicated picture presented itself tonight, Labor seemed to have slipped back badly over the past 48 hours in the negotiations with the smaller parties.
LIKUD ACCORD WITH AGUDA, MORASHA SEEMS IMMINENT
In Likud, there was talk of the imminent signing of accords with Morasha (two Knesset seats) and with Agudat Israel (two seats) in which each of these two religious parties would pledge not to support a Labor-led narrow government.
This would bar Peres’ way towards forming such a government, since he needs Aguda’s support to do so — unless he wins over Tami (one seat) and forms a minority government based on the passive support of Hadash (four seats) and the Progressive List for Peace (two seats, an increasingly unlikely scenario.
Parallel to the efforts of Labor and Likud to coax Aguda into siding with one or both of them, both major parties were each negotiating with Tami and Ometz (Courage to Cure the Economy), with Likud hoping to win over both of these one-seat factions to its camp. If the National Religious Party (four seats) were to follow suit, Likud would amass 60 seats (including that of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party), sufficient to block a Labor-led narrow government.
This would immediately reflect itself in the unity talks where Likud would demand with redoubled vigor full equality, including rotations of the Premiership. Peres declared tonight, in answer to reporters questions, that his party’s opposition to rotation remained firm.
But within Labor there are those who believe that in the final analysis Peres will lead Labor (minus Mapam but plus Yahad) into a unity coalition with Likud based on rotation of the Premiership. Mapam, the Labor Party’s partner in the Alignment, accounts for six of the Alignment’s 44 Knesset seats. Yahad, led by Ezer Weizman, has three Knesset seats.
The alternative, Laborite sources say, is early elections and Peres is certainly among those who do not relish that prospect since it would almost certainly involve his deposition as party leader.
Peres and Shamir said tonight their progress had been in the key policy-issues of settlements and peace talks with Jordan. They worked on a draft formulated by Justice Minister Moshe Nissim and shadow Justice Minister Moshe Shahal.
Some Labor sources were hoping tonight that Likud had “overdone it” by promising too many ministerial portfolios in a unity government to its small party allies — thereby leaving insufficent ministerships for its own top people. Likud reportedly had pledged two ministries to the NRP, one to Morasha, one to Shas, one to Aguda (or a deputy ministership) and one to Tehiya.
Labor sources said their party was not prepared to be so liberal in the context of a unity government.