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Labor Trying to Build Coalition Supporting Peace Plan in Knesset

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Having won the Cabinet’s backing for the landmark Israeli-Palestinian agreement on self-rule in the administered territories, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is scrambling to shore up support in the Knesset.

Rabin hopes to amass a comfortable majority of 70 Knesset members to support the plan, which is expected to come up for a vote in the 120-seat legislature on Sept. 9.

The agreement, which would establish limited Palestinian self-rule first in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, was approved by the Cabinet shortly after midnight Monday, in what was hailed as a historic move.

The ministers arrived at Rabin’s office at about 7 p.m., where they had a briefing on the security dimensions of the agreement, which was conducted by Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff.

All the ministers voted in favor of the plan, except for Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the fervently religious Shas party and Economics Minister Shimon Shetreet of Labor, both of whom abstained.

With the Cabinet vote behind him, Rabin is trying to convince politicians from some of the opposition parties in the Knesset to support the plan, in the hope of receiving the broadest possible mandate to push forward in the peace process.

The Labor Party, meanwhile, is busy laying plans for a publicity blitz to counter right-wing opponents of the peace package.

Reserve Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal has been put in charge of a party task force whose job it will be to organize demonstrations, student activities and billboard advertisements supporting the government’s policy.

LABOR WOOING RELIGIOUS PARTIES

In the Knesset, Labor’s strategy for winning the crucial vote is now focused on members of the religious parties.

Political insiders say the four Knesset members belonging to the United Torah Judaism bloc — comprising the Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah parties — are likely to abstain when the plan comes up for a vote next week.

But it is still possible that the three Agudah Knesset members will vote with the government.

The six Knesset members belonging to the Shas party, which is a partner in the governing coalition, are likely to support the government in the crucial vote, whether or not Deri has by then quit his ministerial post.

Deri, who faces bribery charges, is under mounting pressure to step down as interior minister.

Deri himself voiced support for the peace agreement after reading it Monday, despite his decision that night to abstain during the Cabinet vote.

Shas sources insisted that Deri’s abstention did not mean he would do the same when the plan comes up for a vote in the Knesset, which members of both the coalition and opposition have formally agreed to regard as a vote of confidence for or against the government.

But political sources say the Likud party is unified in its opposition to the peace plan, meaning there is little chance of getting an overwhelming Knesset majority to endorse it.

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