JERUSALEM (Nov. 15)
Leaders of the Labor Party and Likud were scheduled to meet at Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s office Tuesday night, to explore the possibility of a coalition government embracing the country’s two largest political factions.
Shamir was asked to form a new government by President Chaim Herzog on Monday on the basis of support he has received from the ultra-Orthodox parties.
They, along with the far right-wing secular parties, would give Likud a governing majority in the 120-member Knesset. But Herzog made clear his preference for a broadly based regime and Shamir appeared to agree.
However, the chances of Labor and Likud getting together seem slim.
The speculation here is that Laborite Yitzhak Rabin would stay on as defense minister in any Labor-Likud combination. Rabin, who gets on well with the premier, is said to favor the idea.
Shamir reportedly prefers Rabin to his hardline Herut colleague Ariel Sharon, who covets the defense post.
But unless there is a broadly based government, Shamir would be hard pressed to deny Sharon’s wishes.
On the Labor side of the equation, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres may be the stumbling block to an agreement with Likud.
He and Shamir share a personal antipathy which goes beyond their ideological differences. Peres most certainly would have to step down as Foreign Minister in a new coalition.
Many Laborites reportedly would be willing to have him named Finance Minister. Any lesser post for the titular head of the party is unacceptable.
MAKING DEALS WITH KOOR
Moreover, the Finance Ministry in Labor hands would make it easier to deal with the financial vicissitudes of Koor, the Histadrut-owned industrial conglomerate which faces bankruptcy.
But Shamir’s circle insists that Likud retain the Finance Ministry and that the popular incumbent Moshe Nissim stay on as minister.
Several members of Labor’s negotiating team are said to be holding out for a rotation of power agreement. Peres and Shamir alternated in the office of Prime Minister during the tenure of the outgoing Labor-Likud unity government.
But having edged out Labor by one mandate in the Nov. 1 Knesset elections, Likud will not consider renewing such an arrangement.
Two prominent Laborites, Secretary General Uzi Baram and Peres’ close aide Yossi Beilin, vociferously support the role of fighting opposition for the party’s 39 member Knesset faction.
Labor’s allies — Mapam, the Citizens Rights Movement and the Center-Shinui — also dislike the idea of a Labor-Likud partnership.
Many party members of Likud are urging the party to snub Labor and govern with the support of the religious and right-wing parties.
Among them are young, ambitious second-tier leaders who feel they are in line for Cabinet posts in a narrow coalition.
There is also the radical right-wing of the party that rejects any ties with Labor for ideological reasons.
But others say Labor should dump Peres and join in a government with Likud. That, supposedly, is Shamir’s sincere but unarticulated wish.
Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox parties are nervous that Shamir might back away from his commitment to their demands for religious legislation, notably the “Who Is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return.
Their fears apparently stem from the powerful pressure being applied by Jewish leaders in the United States, where the majority of affiliated Jews belong to the Reform or Conservative movements in Judaism.
Leaders of the religious parties are warning that they could easily switch to support the Labor Party if Shamir reneges on his promises.
Peres lives “just across the street from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” spiritual mentor of the Shas party, a Shas source observed Tuesday.