Labor’s Hope of Building Coalition Fades As 21-day Deadline Approaches

The Labor Party’s hopes of putting together a viable coalition government seemed to be fading fast this week as the April 11 deadline for accomplishing the task loomed relentlessly nearer.

On that date, the second day of Passover, the 21-day mandate Labor Party leader Shimon Peres received from President Chaim Herzog will expire.

Unless the Labor Party chief has good grounds for requesting an extension, as allowed by law, the baton will be passed to acting Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud.

The Knesset is evenly split 60-60 between the two major parties and the factions supporting each.

Peres has failed so far to pry loose a single defector from the Likud bloc to break the arithmetical deadlock. The mysterious “Knesset member X” Laborites claim was ready to bolt Likud has yet to show his or her face.

Peres is still courting the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah and Shas parties, with eight Knesset votes between them. But they have remained firmly in the Likud camp, despite their reported affinity for Labor’s land-for-peace formula.

Political observers wrote off Degel after its spiritual mentor, Rabbi Eliezer Schach, delivered a fierce attack on the non-observant Jews of the kibbutz movement at the party’s convention in Tel Aviv on March 26.

Schach’s polemic was considered a slap at Labor, which draws much of its grass-roots support from the kibbutzim.

MODA’I CAMP SIDING WITH SHAMIR

Labor has what it believes is a firm deal with the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. But it is good only as long as Peres’ mandate lasts, the Agudah repeatedly makes clear.

Labor’s hopes glimmered briefly last week when a bloc of five Likud defectors calling itself the Party for the Advancement of Liberal-Zionist Values indicated it was prepared for coalition talks with Peres. The five are former members of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, led by Yitzhak Moda’i, the former minister of economics and planning.

Moda’i, who quit Likud last month because he thought Shamir’s peace diplomacy was too soft, would seem to have no affinity for Peres’ willingness to compromise for peace.

There was speculation nevertheless that the defectors might be won over by offers of important ministerial portfolios in a Labor-led regime.

Instead, the more cynical pundits seem to have been right when they suggested that Mo-da’i’s approach to Labor was a tactic aimed at Shamir. The Likud leader seems to have swallowed his pride and promised the defectors safe scats on the party’s next election list if they return to the fold.

Moda’i met privately with Shamir on Monday. A. second meeting was scheduled with a larger Likud forum.

Shamir, meanwhile, seems to be successfully plugging his leaks. He met this week with two Knesset members rumored to be fair game for Laborite blandishments — Aharon Abuhatzeira of Likud and Avner Shaki, a National Religious Party minister without portfolio.

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