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News Analysis: Labor and Likud Prepare to Debate Egyptian Proposal for a Dialogue

Labor Party leaders continued Tuesday to hammer out a detailed response to Egypt’s efforts to broker an Israeli dialogue with the Palestinians.

Labor’s position will not be final until Wednesday night, when the party’s ministers meet in preparation for the Inner Cabinet’s foreign policy debate on Thursday.

That session of the government’s top policy-making body, consisting of five Labor and five Likud ministers, is expected by many to be a door-die effort to keep the unity coalition government intact.

If Labor and Likud cannot reach common ground on dialogue with the Palestinians, and the 10-point proposal offered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, many observers predict the government will fall.

But Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, indicated that he did not expect a final decision Thursday, but rather the start of an ongoing debate.

Neither Peres nor other party leaders would speculate on the chances of the government falling. Peres said he wanted to concentrate on the substance of the Mubarak proposals.

Haim Ramon, an outspoken dove who chairs Labor’s Knesset faction, warned that the government would stay in office only “as long as the peace process stays in motion.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud bloc have rejected Egypt’s 10 points because they call for negotiations based on the “land for peace” formula, would allow East Jerusalem Arabs to participate in Palestinian elections and would include in the Palestinian delegation participating in preliminary talks some representatives from outside the territories.

U.S. PROPOSING THREE-WAY TALKS

Labor’s Knesset faction proposed Tuesday that the government treat the Egyptian points as the opening gambit of a Palestinian delegation in negotiations with Israel.

Behind the scenes meanwhile, Labor and Likud politicians have been trying to devise formulas that could enable a dialogue to begin with the support of Likud, or at least its majority, led by Shamir.

Those efforts seemed to be advanced by news from Washington following Mubarak’s meeting there with President Bush on Monday.

According to the reports, the United States informally suggested three-way American-Israeli-Egyptian talks on the composition of a proposed Palestinian delegation.

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker reportedly said such an arrangement would effectively give Israel a veto over the composition of the delegation.

Observers here believe tripartite talks would be acceptable to Shamir.

By proposing the inclusion of Palestinians outside the administered territories, the Egyptian leader is clearly trying to win the tacit cooperation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But it is precisely his efforts to have the PLO engage indirectly in talks with Israel that pose the biggest obstacle for Shamir and his party.

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