Prospect of Labor-led government in Israel improves dramatically

Prospects of ending Israel's political stalemate improved dramatically Wednesday when former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman announced he would join only a Labor Party-led government.

Some Israeli political analysts say the incumbent Likud bloc might now allow talks on the formation of a ''national unity'' government to collapse and allow the left-leaning Labor to form a weak government.

''Then they (Likud) can just sit on the sidelines and watch Labor stew,'' says a centrist political figure. It is unlikely a narrowly based coalition could take the steps thought necessary to heal Israel's ailing economy.

Without the three parliament seats of Mr. Weizman's centrist Yahad party, the Likud has no mathematical possibility of forming a government, thus likely ending seven years of right-wing Likud rule.

Weizman's decision was the first break in the political deadlock that has existed here since the July 23 elections left Labor with a narrow edge in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) over the Likud.

Weizman's decision has also greatly strengthened the left-leaning party's hand in negotiations with Likud on formation of a national unity cabinet.

''A month has already passed and everyone's been mucking around,'' Weizman told reporters after he met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. ''I strongly recommend again that he (Shamir) do his best to take part in forming a national unity government under Labor (leader Shimon Peres).... I hope this step will lead to the formation of a broad-based government.''

Likud Knesset member Ehud Olmert predicts that Labor's left-wing Mapam faction would refuse to support a national unity government, forcing Labor to form a narrowly based government that would at least initially depend on passive support from far-left parties to stay in power.

Weizman is said by local news media to have had a variety of reasons for declaring for Labor. Not least among these is that Labor has promised he would be named foreign minister. Also, says a local political writer, ''Weizman is a principled man, and he is angry with the Likud.''

Weizman differs with the Likud primarily on the need to take an initiative to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process. Likud says it will continue to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Weizman opposes. Labor has shown a willingness to negotiate a territorial compromise on the West Bank with Jordan's King Hussein, and wants to freeze settlements.

Weizman's decision coincided with that of another Knesset member, independent Yigael Hurwitz, who also sided with Labor. Before the announcements, Labor feared it might have to make concessions to the Likud on these key issues to form a national unity government.

Attention now has turned to four religious parties that control 12 seats. One of them, Agudat Yisrael, is showing signs of leaning toward Labor. If Labor can win over Agudat's two seats and the National Religious Party's four seats, it would control the 61 seats necessary for a majority.

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