Likud and Labor Resume Talks on National Unity Coalition

The Labor Party and the Likud seemed to be inching toward a broad coalition partnership late Monday.

But there are plenty of pitfalls, including a reported 48-hour deadline set by Likud for Labor to accept its terms.

Advocates of a broad-based coalition government were encouraged, however, by a meeting Monday between Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and Premier Yitzhak Shamir, who heads the Likud. It was the first meeting between the parties since Labor broke off negotiations with Likud last Tuesday.

Peres, the foreign minister, was accompanied by Labor’s No. 2 man, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. On hand with Shamir was his close associate, Moshe Arens, who ran Likud’s election campaign.

Peres declined to comment on what transpired. But party Secretary-General Uzi Baram predicted “a standoff.” Baram and other powerful figures in Labor say they would prefer an opposition role in the new Knesset.

Israel Radio reported Monday night that Shamir went a long way toward meeting Labor’s demands for senior Cabinet positions in the next government.

Peres and Rabin would retain the foreign and defense ministries respectively, Israel Radio said. There also was agreement on equal representation for each party in the Inner Cabinet, the government’s top policy-making body.

SEVERAL STICKING POINTS

Baram confirmed that Shamir had offered Labor two of the four top portfolios. Shamir will hold the prime ministership. The other three are the foreign affairs, defense and finance portfolios.

According to the Israel Radio report, there are several sticking points. Likud wants to have one more minister than Labor. And it insists that not all issues be referred to the Inner Cabinet.

Likud, for example, does not want controversies over Jewish settlements in the administered territories brought to that arena. If they were, the far right-wing parties, Tehiya, Tsomet and Moledet, would refuse to join the broad government.

From Labor’s point of view, however, that is all the more reason to insist that the Inner Cabinet have the last word.

According to other reports, Likud decided to allow no more than 48 hours for an agreement to be reached.

After that deadline, Shamir and his ministers reportedly are resolved to abandon talks with Labor and put together, “within 24 hours,” a coalition with the secular right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.

But the religious bloc has eroded somewhat. The newest and smallest of the Orthodox factions, Degel Ha Torah, announced Sunday that it is now “irrevocably” opposed to a narrow Likud-led coalition.

The party’s leader, Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, said a unity government is needed to prevent a further rift between religious and secular Israelis.

The National Religious Party also is having second thoughts about a narrow government. NRP leaders urged Peres on Monday to join Shamir in a broad-based coalition.

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