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Momentum for Labor Coalition Grows As Likud Defectors Side with Peres

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The Labor Party’s chances of forming a new government soared Sunday as it began negotiations with five Likud defectors who apparently have spurned their old party’s efforts to win them back.

Talks were being held under a thick veil of secrecy at the Tel Aviv Dan Hotel and at other sites.

There was jubilation in the Labor camp, gloom at Likud headquarters.

If all goes well — and the Laborites appear optimistic — Shimon Peres will introduce a new coalition government to the Labor Party’s Central Committee on Tuesday night and present it to the Knesset for a vote of confidence on Wednesday.

The legislative body has been called out of Passover recess solely for that purpose on April 11, the date Peres’ three-week deadline to form a government expires.

Until late last week, he was unable to break the 60-60 Knesset deadlock between Labor and Likud and their respective supporters.

Then suddenly the dam broke. Labor concluded coalition agreements Sunday with the dovish parties of the left and center: Mapam, Shinui and the Citizens Rights Movement.

At the same time, signals began to emanate from the Orthodox Shas party that its Council of Torah Sages might reverse itself and order its Knesset faction to join the Labor-led coalition once it gets a Knesset vote of confidence.

Labor concluded a coalition pact last week with another Orthodox party, Agudat Yisrael.

SHARIR ANNOUNCES SUPPORT

But if Labor’s apparent success materializes, it will have to be credited to the five members of Likud’s Liberal Party wing who broke away last month to form a separate Knesset faction called the Party to Preserve Liberal-Zionist Values.

The defectors were led by Yitzhak Moda’i, the former minister of economics and planning, a hard-line critic of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s peace diplomacy.

Rumors abounded last week that Moda’i and Avraham Sharir, a former minister of tourism, had decided to cast their lot with Labor. But when neither would make a public statement, they were considered to have had second thoughts.

Both came under intense pressure and blandishments from Likud. Sharir had an appointment with Shamir on Friday.

But he announced formally Saturday night that he was swinging to Labor.

Sharir, who became an embarrassment for the Likud after a series of well-publicized junkets, has a deep personal grudge against Shamir for excluding him from the Likud government set up after the 1988 elections.

By Sunday night, his fellow defectors were engaged in talks with Labor. Two of them, Pinhas Goldstein and Pessah Grupper, showed up at the Dan Hotel.

Moda’i thought better of it when he arrived and saw the army of reporters and cameramen waiting outside. He was seen driving away, apparently to meet with Labor negotiators elsewhere.

If Moda’i, with or without his colleagues, joins the coalition, he will probably be named finance minister with “special powers” as well in the field of immigrant absorption.

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