Herzog Asks Likud and Labor to Consider Unity Coalition

President Chaim Herzog has queried both Likud and Labor on the possibility of forming another unity coalition government, to effect electoral reforms, Labor Party sources said Monday.

The Labor sources said they welcomed the idea, but believe it is not practical because of Likud’s reluctance to offend the small parties.

The small parties so far have managed to block all moves toward electoral reform. But united, with 79 Knesset seats between them, the two big blocs could easily override the small factions.

One often proposed reform is to raise the percentage of votes a party must win in order to gain entry into the 120-member Knesset. It now stands at 1 percent of the total votes cast.

Raising the threshold would eliminate many of the single-interest splinter factions that now must be bargained with in order to achieve a governing majority.

Whoever Herzog asks to form the next government is given 21 days to complete the task. He is entitled to one 21-day extension, after which the president may approach a different leader.

Herzog has begun informal consultations with every Knesset faction to hear its recommendations. His first meetings were with Likud and Labor representatives.

RELIGIOUS PARTIES UNDECIDED

But the chance of a Likud-led coalition with the religious parties, while still a possibility, is less certain than it appeared immediately after the elections last week.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and Agudat Yisrael parties asked Herzog to postpone meeting with them because neither has decided yet whether to back Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, or Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who heads Labor.

Likud was somewhat relieved Monday when Gen. Rafael Eitan announced that he would suggest that Herzog turn to Shamir. Eitan heads the far right-wing Tsomet faction, which won two Knesset seats in the Nov. 1 elections.

Tsomet is closer ideologically to Likud than Labor, but Eitan reportedly had been considering an offer from Peres to become agriculture minister in a Labor-led Cabinet.

But Likud’s relief was mitigated by the fact that Eitan, too, favors a national unity government, without the religious parties.

Moledet, another party of the extreme right, has announced its preference for a Shamir-led government.

Israel Radio reported that Shamir has offered the party’s leader, retired Gen. Rehavam Zeevi, the sub-Cabinet post of deputy minister of education.

If true, this is likely to arouse opposition within Likud and in Degel HaTorah, a new religious party Likud is trying to woo as a coalition partner.

Zeevi campaigned on a single issue: the “transfer” — meaning expulsion — of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This is not a policy espoused by Likud and is hardly likely to win the approval of the dovishly inclined Degel Hatorah.

SHAS COULD BACK LABOR

Degel and Shas, which emerged from the elections as the largest of the four Orthodox parties, are both strongly influenced by the aged Rabbi Eliezer Schach of Bnei Brak.

Schach’s principal objective is said to be the exclusion of Agudat Yisrael from the government. It is backed by his arch foe, Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who lives in Brooklyn.

It is not surprising then that Shas and Degel HaTorah have indicated they would like to see Labor in a broad government with Likud and several, but not all, of the Orthodox parties.

This gives Labor something of an edge in the ongoing jockeying. Likud would need the entire religious bloc in order to form a government.

Labor, in alignment with Shas and Degel, could attain a narrow on-paper majority, relying on the Communists and the Progressive List for Peace not to oppose them and hoping eventually to co-opt all or part of the National Religious Party.

NEXT STORY