Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Sharon woos all parties to build new government

DPA , JERUSALEM

Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon met opposition leader Shimon Peres early yesterday to lay the groundwork for coalition negotiations which are due to start last night, Israel Radio reported.

The meeting was held amid tension between Sharon and Peres' Labor Party over the premier's decision to also negotiate with two ultra-Orthodox opposition parties.

Labor officials are reportedly furious that Sharon's Likud Party is not prepared to acknowledge their party's seniority over that of the ultra-Orthodox parties, with whom it will hold separate talks later in the week.

Reports in Israel over the weekend said Labor has demanded that Sharon change the government's basic guidelines as a prerequisite for forming a government with the Likud.

Peres also wants an expedited timetable for Israel's proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which Sharon has said would be completed next year.

Sharon's current government began falling apart after the Cabinet voted last month to approve the Gaza withdrawal in principle. The ultra-hawkish National Union party quit the government, as did a minister and a deputy minister from the National Religious Party.

In addition, rebels from Sharon's right-wing Likud Party who oppose withdrawing from Gaza have also decided not to support the government in votes of no-confidence.

An exasperated Sharon told the Likud caucus last week the only options facing him in view of the current parliamentary situation were either to look for a new coalition or to seek new elections.

Last week he formally invited Labor, the main opposition party, to begin coalition talks and then extended an invitation to the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

The reason for the latter invitation, analysts said, was because Sharon wanted to counter Labor in the coalition in order to appease hardline Likud legislators, who oppose the entry of the center-left party into the government.

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