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News Analysis: Shamir Has Narrow Coalition in Place, but May Be Stalling for Unity Option

Prime Minister-designate Yitzhak Shamir will present a narrow-based coalition government to the Knesset early next week, according to circles within his Likud bloc.

But other political sources believe Shamir is deliberately dragging out coalition negotiations in the hope of eventually forming a national unity government with a Labor Party headed by Yitzhak Rabin.

Although Shamir is said to already have the votes to form a Likud-led coalition with the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties, he is expected nevertheless to ask President Chaim Herzog on Friday for a 21-day extension of his mandate to form a government, as allowed by law.

A new Likud-Labor unity coalition would become feasible if Rabin succeeds in his drive to replace Shimon Peres as leader of the Labor Party. The former defense minister has made clear he would favor his party’s entry into a unity government on more flexible terms than demanded by Peres.

A showdown over the party leadership is expected when the Labor Party Central Committee is formally presented with a study commission’s report on Labor’s poor showing in the 1988 Knesset elections. Leaks from the commission say the blame will be heaped on Peres and his aides, who controlled the campaign machinery.

The report was to be presented to the Central Committee on Thursday, but the panel asked Wednesday for a postponement, saying it was not ready to present its findings.

A RAZOR-THIN MAJORITY

Meanwhile, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ronni Milo, a member of the Likud negotiating team, told reporters Wednesday that he expected agreements with all the prospective coalition partners would be signed before the weekend, so that Shamir would have no trouble presenting his government to the Knesset next week.

Milo conceded that the new government would win the confidence vote by only a razorthin, 61-vote majority of the legislative body.

But he said Likud still hoped the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party would void its agreement with Labor and join the coalition at a later stage. That would give the new government a more comfortable majority of 65 votes.

Milo spoke after a negotiating session at the Prime Minister’s Office between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox Shas. He admitted there were “problems to be ironed out,” but maintained they were surmountable.

Shas Knesset member Shlomo Dayan said his party wanted the chairmanship of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee.

More important, it is demanding a free vote on foreign policy issues “if the government were to deviate from its own policy platform regarding the peace process.”

Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is dovish on peace issues and uncomfortable with the proposed right-of-center government.

Yosef, Israel’s former Sephardic chief rabbi, is determined to ensure a modicum of commitment from the prime minister to pursue the peace process sincerely and vigorously.

Nevertheless, Shas sources stressed there is no “ultimatum” and that their party’s basic allegiance to Shamir remains firm.

Some Labor die-hards however, were keeping alive the hope that Shamir’s coalition would founder on Yosef’s policy stand.

Independent political observers have suggested a more complex scenario that could lead to a unity government. They stressed the rapidly escalating crisis between Rabin and Peres.

PERES CAMP PLAYING FOR TIME

For practical reasons, the Peres camp is playing for time. His supporters say they do not fear a fight and are prepared to accept Rabin’s proposal that the issue be settled in a series of “primaries” that would allow the party’s 300,000- odd rank-and-file members to decide who the leader should be.

Peres’ people contend, however, that the present membership lists are inaccurate and that there must therefore be a new membership drive before the contest can take place. That would take many months, and Rabin is not prepared to wait.

Peres’ supporters presumably believe his chances will improve with time.

At present, though, he is taking much of the blame for the party’s failure to put together a Labor-led coalition last month. Peres was forced to relinquish his mandate on April 26.

Rabin is said to want to drive home his attack as soon as possible, to capitalize on the current widespread disaffection with the party chairman.

Observers speculate that by stalling in his coalition negotiations, Shamir is signaling the Rabin camp that if it triumphs now, the unity option can yet be revived.

A coalition negotiator for one of the small parties told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday that at a lengthy but not especially productive session with a Likud team, headed by Shamir, the prime minster seemed “to have all the time in the world.”

Said the informant, “You cannot help wondering whether he still has unity in the back of his mind.”

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