Shamir Granted 21-day Extension to Form Likud-led Government

Prime Minister-designate Yitzhak Shamir requested and promptly received Thursday a 21-day extension of his mandate to form a Likud-led government.

The mandate he received from President Chaim Herzog on April 27 expires Friday.

Negotiations with likely coalition partners seem to be going well and have reached the stage where Cabinet portfolios are being assigned.

But while Likud sources said Shamir already commands sufficient Knesset votes to set up a narrow coalition with the religious and right-wing parties, he does not appear in a hurry.

He told reporters at the presidential residence that he hoped to have his government in place before the next three-week deadline expires. He refused to say categorically that he would present it to the Knesset next week, as many Likud supporters insist he could.

That has given rise to reports that Shamir favors a unity coalition with the Labor Party and still hopes to form one.

A convivial meeting Wednesday night in Jerusalem with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, which took place at the wedding of the granddaughter of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef triggered a new flurry of speculation that a unity government was in the cards.

But Shamir told reporters “it is not practical at this time.”

Political observers say Shamir would consider an alliance with Labor only if former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin replaced Peres as Labor Party head.

Rabin has publicly challenged the incumbent chairman. But a showdown between them expected at the Labor Party’s Central Committee meeting this weekend is not likely to materialize.

The committee had been scheduled Thursday to get the report of a commission set up to find out why Labor made a poor showing against Likud in the 1988 Knesset elections. But the panel asked for a postponement Wednesday, saying it was not ready to present its findings. It is now due to be released May 27.

According to leaks from the panel, blame was heaped on Peres and his aides who controlled the campaign machinery.

Rabin was expected to cite the report as one reason why Peres should be replaced.

Peres’ aides are reportedly pressuring the commission to tone down its criticism.

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