- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 14 (UPI) — Israel's opposition Labor Party will not join any government coalition with Likud's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the head, if indeed Likud wins, Labor leaders declared Tuesday.

If so, Sharon would likely be left with religious and right-wing hawkish parties with which to form a government.

Labor had been a prominent member of Sharon's outgoing government and its defection prompted the early elections, due on Jan. 28. During much of the campaign there has been a feeling that the next government would, once again, be national unity government.

Sharon wants it, and Tuesday he repeated that wish: "In light of the challenges facing us and those we can expect in the future, a national unity government is more important than ever," he said in Haifa.

The centrist, stridently anti-religious, Shinui Party said it would only join a Likud-Labor government. Its position has attracted voters drifting from Labor and the Likud and it is emerging as the third biggest party.

Labor has been somewhat vague, but laid any doubts to rest at Tuesday's press conference when it insisted a national unity government was not in the cards.

"We are not going to be in a government led by Sharon, period. It is them, or us," party Chairman Amram Mitzna stated, and pointedly added, "In the end there may be a narrow-based right wing government with the ultra-orthodox."

The move seemed to be a desperate attempt to draw votes from Shinui and possibly the dovish Meretz Party. One of Meretz' main campaign slogans has been that they, unlike the other parties including Labor, for sure, will not be in "Sharon's flock."

The announcement came in one day after public opinion surveys showed Labor was once again losing support while the Likud was gaining.

According to a poll published in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the Likud would have won 32 to 33 mandates in the 120 member Knesset if elections were held this week, up from 28 in the last poll. Labor would have won only 20 mandates compared with 21 to 22 in the last poll. Shinui would get 17 seats. In the outgoing Knesset it has six.

With the other, smaller parties, the right wing-religious block would have 63 mandates and the left wing-centrist block, 57, the poll said.

These results do not necessarily mean most Israelis really want a hawkish, uncompromising government, however.

Professor Ephraim Ya'ar, who heads Tel Aviv University's Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tuesday told United Press International their public opinion polls show broad support for the creation of an Palestinian state and an evacuation of all the Israeli settlements from the occupied Gaza Strip. Most Jews favor an evacuation of isolated scattered settlements in the West Bank and are ready to accept the pre-1967 boundaries as "a basis for adjustments."

However, the public "wants the deliverer to be from the right (wing)," Ya'ar said. People are disappointed with the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords and believe that "when it comes to negotiations, the Likud would prove a tougher bargainer than Labor," he added.

Mitzna brought to the news conference almost all the top Knesset candidates in what appeared to be an intent to drive home the message that voters cannot have it their way.

"Sharon can only head an extreme right wing government," former Interior Minister Haim Ramon said. If Labor wants to return to power it should let the extreme right wing try its hand, he said, predicting, "A year (after that) and we shall be in power."

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