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News Analysis: Likud and Labor May Take Weeks to Reach Accord on Egyptian Ideas

Likud’s and Labor’s efforts to reach common ground on a dialogue with the Palestinians are expected to extend over the next several weeks, as the two parties seek further clarifications from the United States and Egypt, while trying to preserve their unity coalition government.

There is a consensus among political observers that nothing conclusive will emerge from the Inner Cabinet’s foreign policy debate, scheduled for Thursday.

The government’s top policy-making body, consisting of six Likud and six Labor ministers, is seeking a way to narrow the differences between the coalition partners over the 10-point paper proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian leader has stressed the 10 points are not an initiative but a framework for the Palestinian election plan that originated with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Likud rejects several key points, including the premise that the “land for peace” formula should serve as the basis for peace talks. It is also opposed to allowing East Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the proposed elections.

Mubarak has offered to host preliminary Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo to work out the mechanics of the elections. But Likud is staunchly opposed to his suggestion that Palestinians outside the territories, including those deported by Israel, be included in those talks.

The Labor Party, on the other hand, is prepared to endorse the Egyptian 10 points as an acceptable opening position for the Palestinian delegation. The United States is believed to share the same view, though it has not said so publicly.

But the Americans, the Egyptians and especially the Israeli leaders seem anxious to avoid a government crisis in Jerusalem.

SUMMIT IN THE WORKS?

Ha’aretz reported Wednesday that Washington is making strenuous efforts to persuade Mubarak to hold a summit meeting with Shamir, which the Israeli leader has long wanted, to head off a coalition crisis over the 10 points.

Mubarak, who has declared publicly that he is not seeking the breakup of the Israeli government, says he would be willing to meet with Shamir if a successful outcome could be guaranteed.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, hinted during a party caucus Wednesday night that Shamir wants to stay on the “good side” of the Americans, since he will be visiting the United States in the middle of November.

Since he will almost certainly have meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, he is anxious to avoid a rift.

Labor, too, would prefer to avert a coalition crisis, political observers say, at least until after the Histadrut elections in November.

But the Laborites would hardly be put out if Shamir and his Likud bloc find themselves on the defensive against the Americans, the Egyptians and other areas of public opinion.

The Labor Party was encouraged by a poll published in Yediot Achronot last weekend. It showed 52 percent of the public favoring talks with the Palestinians on Mubarak’s terms, 40 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.

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