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In Wake of Tragedy, Labor Defers Decision About Quitting Government

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The Labor Party postponed until Monday the Executive meeting it was supposed to hold Thursday to consider withdrawing from its coalition partnership with Likud.

The meeting was announced Wednesday night, after the Likud Central Committee overwhelmingly adopted a toughly worded resolution on Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s peace plan.

It was called off until Monday because of national shock over the terrorist-related bus disaster on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway Thursday, which claimed 14 lives.

Many Laborites were seething over the set of principles Shamir agreed to abide by in implementing his peace initiative. They include a number of limitations on both the proposed Palestinian elections and the terms of a final settlement — provisions the Palestinians almost certainly will not accept.

A group of 17 Labor members of the Knesset who call themselves “Force 17″ indicated before the bus tragedy that they planned to urge the party to quit the government immediately.

The group includes Haim Ramon, chairman of Labor’s Knesset faction; Deputy Finance Minister Yossi Beilin, who is close to Labor Party leader Shimon Peres; and Uzi Baram, the party’s former secretary-general.

But their influence, if not their ardor, might be cooled by the meeting’s 7postponement, political observers said.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose position on the issue could be decisive, called Thursday for an “unhasty” process of decision-making, over a period of “weeks but not months.”

Rabin is credited with helping Shamir draft the peace plan.

PERES STUDYING POLITICAL SCENE

The defense minister said in a radio interview that the most serious single element in the resolution adopted by Likud on Wednesday is the freeze on negotiations until the Palestinian uprising is completely suppressed.

He said that provision could stifle hopes that agreement can be reached even on the form the proposed elections in the territories will take.

Should that be the case, Rabin said, Labor would be unable to continue its partnership with Likud.

Shamir’s media spokesman, Avi Pazner, said the Likud resolution did not intend to rule out “unofficial talks” with local Palestinians.

According to observers, Peres is quietly studying the fragmented political scene to determine whether it would be possible for Labor to form a narrow-based government in coalition with some of the smaller parties, if it decides to end its alliance with Likud.

The National Religious Party seems an unlikely partner, in light of its enthusiastic support for the Likud resolution.

But opinion is divided in the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Agudat Yisrael parties, which, with 11 Knesset seats between them, hold the balance of power.

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