TEL AVIV (Dec. 20)
Israelis remained uncertain Tuesday what sort of government they will have, seven weeks after the Knesset elections.
The Likud Central Committee was meeting Tuesday evening to approve or reject the agreement Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reached Monday with the Labor Party to form a broad-based, unity coalition government.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. local time, and the voting was not expected to take place before midnight.
The outcome will determine whether Shamir can present his new government to the Knesset for ratification Thursday, as he hopes.
As the crucial Central Committee meeting opened, political observers were inclined to believe Shamir would prevail. But the session was described as stormy, and Shamir apparently was booed several times.
There is fierce opposition to an alliance with Labor among Likud’s die-hard ideologues, including such powerful figures as Ariel Sharon.
Shamir reportedly has said he would resign the Likud leadership if the Central Committee fails to approve the coalition agreement.
He also would have to report failure to President Chaim Herzog when his mandate to form a new government expires on Monday–unless he is able to assemble a narrow-based coalition with the religious parties before then.
In the event that he is unable to do so, the task of forming a government would be assigned by Herzog to Peres, as leader of the second largest party in the Knesset.
Like Shamir, he would have 42 days to accomplish it.
AGAINST TALKS WITH PLO
The coalition agreement is not expected to face major hurdles in the Labor Party. Its Central Committee voted two weeks ago to approve in principle a coalition with Likud. It will meet again Wednesday to ratify that decision.
If there is any dispute, it will be over the allocation of Cabinet portfolios among Labor ministers in the new government and whether that should be the sole prerogative of party leader Shimon Peres.
Until a new government is in office, it is premature to say what impact it will have on the rapidly changing Middle East peace process.
Observers generally agree, however, that a coalition of ideologically opposed partners cannot produce a clear policy line, even though Likud will hold the offices of prime minister and foreign minister.
The Likud-Labor agreement was reached while Israel was still reeling from the shock of the U.S. decision to open a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel Radio reported Tuesday that the policy guidelines included in the coalition agreement state that the PLO cannot be a party to any negotiations with Israel.
But there are differences. Likud is firmly entrenched in opposition to any form of political dialogue that could lead to changes in Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A growing element in the Labor Party supports some kind of dialogue with the Palestinians. Labor’s dovish members even advocate talks with PLO leader Yasir Arafat.
According to Israel Radio, Labor and Likud have agreed that Israel’s desire for peace will be their guiding principle, based on the Camp David accords of 1978.
‘WHO IS A JEW’ ISSUE MAY BE DEAD
The new government also would work to improve relations with Egypt and would call on Jordan to join the peace process.
Israel Radio reported that the new government, like the outgoing Likud-Labor unity coalition, would have a 10-member Inner Cabinet consisting of five ministers from each party. It would continue to serve as the regime’s top policy-making body in defense and all political matters.
The Likud-Labor agreement has brought down the wrath of the Orthodox parties on Shamir. They had been ardently courted by Likud as potential coalition partners.
They exacted promises, made in Shamir’s name, of key Cabinet portfolios, legislation enforcing Sabbath observances, and generous government subsidies for their schools and other religious institutions.
Most important to them, Shamir guaranteed that the controversial amendment to the Law of Return defining “who is a Jew” would be adopted by the Knesset within weeks of the new government taking office.
But chances for that became virtually nil when Likud entered into agreement with Labor.
Although the religious parties will doubtless be invited to join a Likud-Labor coalition government, they are now vowing to go into opposition in protest.