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Labor Party Leaders Express Pessimism About Its Prospects or That of Likud’s to Form a Narrow-based

August 15, 1984
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Leaders of the Labor Party are “rather pessimistic” about its prospect or that of Likud’s to stitch together a narrowbased government. There was also some pessimism about the possibility of forming a national unity government. The talks that have been going on since last week between Labor and Likud and between the two major parties and the smaller parties appear to be stuck in dead center.

Sources participating in the negotiations between Likud and Labor praised the cordial atmosphere but said there has been no substantial progress on the two key issues: the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and negotiations with Jordan. Each party, the sources said, advanced its own line.


The only possible breakthrough was former Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s proposal Sunday night that Labor and Likud seek to set up a unity government for two years only that would focus mainly on the economy and the need to withdraw from Lebanon.

This proposal has not been formally endorsed by either party, but given the ongoing disputes on foreign and domestic policies, Rabin’s scheme may gather support as a practical way of forming at least a two-year government. Both Labor and Likud leaders acknowledge privately that any narrow-based government that either party might manage to put together would probably be much shorter-lived than two years.

But even if agreement is reached on Rabin’s proposal, the thorny issue of who would head a two-year government — Labor leader Shimon Peres, who was chosen as Premier-designate by President Chaim Herzog, or Premier Yitzhak Shamir — has still to be resolved.

The “rather pessimistic” prospect of either party being able to form a narrow-based government was confirmed today in a radio interview by Victor Shemtov, secretary-general of Mapam, the Labor Party’s partner in the Alignment, after a three-hour meeting in Tel Aviv between Labor and Mapam leaders.


Shemtov said that unlike the Labor Party leadership, he was more optimistic about the narrow-based option but less optimistic about the possibility of a national unity government. Explaining his view regarding the narrow-based option, Shemtov noted that the “negotiations have not reached their climax yet … different dynamics are possible … especially when people come to realize that the alternative might be early elections.”

On the unity option, Shemtov said Mapam’s position remained unchanged: it was “not putting obstacles in the way of Peres negotiating with Likud on behalf of the entire Labor Alignment” but Mapam did not believe a unity government is possible given the wide differences between the Alignment and Likud on major issues. He said he doubted that Likud would modify its positions just to form a unity government. “I know the Likud and I respect the Likud,” Shemtov said. “They mean what they say.”

The Mapam leader cited ongoing West Bank settlement activities and government plans for further settlement as proof of his contention. In economic affairs moreover, he said, the Likud-led transitional government was going ahead with moves that were creating unemployment.

Regarding the idea — that has been raised unofficially in Likud quarters — for a “rotating” Premiership, this was “a non-starter,” Shemtov said. It would mean a paralyzed government, he noted. He charged that there was “a deliberate optical illusion being created that Mapam is thwarting the unity effort” whereas in fact it was Likud that is thwarting it by balking at a unity government under Labor leadership.


Meanwhile, with the far-from enthusiastic mandate from Mapam for the Labor Party to go ahead with the unity talks, Labor is continuing its talks with Likud — in two working groups. Rabin, Yitzhak Navon, Abba Eban and Moshe Shahal met in Tel Aviv this afternoon to prepare for the first session of the “foreign policy” working group to be held tomorrow with Moshe Arens, David Levy, Ariel Sharon and Moshe Nissim of Likud.

Navon told reporters that Labor’s purpose would not be to bridge the gaps but to suggest “Formulations that could enable us to live together despite our differences.” He acknow ledged that agreement would probably be much more easily reached in the economic working group, which is also scheduled to convene tomorrow.

Asked if Peres would be able to present a government within the 21 days alloted him by Herzog on August 5, Navon said there were numerous precedents for Premiers-designate failing to do so and requesting an additional 21 days — and receiving them from the President.


Labor, meanwhile, is maintaining a desultory dialogue with National Religious Party representatives on State-and-religion issues. NRP leader Yosef Burg said last night that he had secured Peres’ and Shamir’s agreement to the NRP being brought into the unity talks.

He said he expected that Yahad leader Ezer Weizman would also join the talks — so that ultimately the unity government would “rest on four legs: Labor, Likud, the NRP and Yahad.” It could, Burg added, be subsequently broadened to include other interested parties.

Observers note that the NRP is a pivotal factor at this point in the unity talks since neither Labor nor Likud would want to set up a government without any religious representation — and both major parties see the NRP as the most preferable religious partner.

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