16/07/2004 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and opposition chair MK Shimon Peres will meet on Sunday at Peres’ initiative to clarify guidelines for unity government negotiations. Peres decided to take this step in response to a sharp exchange yesterday afternoon between Sharon and Labor MK Dalia Itzik. The Labor MK complained that Sharon has invited the Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties to coalition talks, in parallel to negotiations with the Labor Party.
Itzik added that Labor will not join Sharon’s government unless it carries out its disengagement policy soon. Other Labor politicians yesterday also expressed consternation about the way Sharon has approached the start of unity government talks with their party. Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz stated that “Sharon is making a mockery of the Labor party. Labor must avoid the disgrace of taking part in a multilateral negotiation for the establishment of a right-wing, religious government. “If Sharon wants Labor to join his government, Likud’s negotiation team should sit and discuss policy guideline issues exclusively with the Labor Party. As it turns out, Sharon is not looking for genuine cooperation with the Labor Party; instead, he is using it for his own political purposes.” Pines-Paz said Labor should suspend talks until Likud agrees to conduct negotiations exclusively with it. Yesterday Sharon appointed Likud’s negotiation team for talks about a new government. The delegation will be headed by attorney Yoram Rabad, and its members will include former justice minister Ya’akov Neeman, MK Gideon Sa’ar, and Sharon’s strategic adviser Eyal Arad. Sharon met yesterday with most members of this team and briefed them about the start of the talks on Sunday. He said that during the talks members of the delegation should meet with NRP and Shinui politicians and brief them about where the negotiations are headed. The goal of the negotiations, Sharon told these delegation members, is to expand the government coalition in a fashion that supports the disengagement plan. However, the prime minister added, he has no intention of assenting to Peres’ demand for the renegotiation of the government’s policy guidelines. “If Peres wants to make the disengagement plan part of the government’s policy guidelines, we have no problem,” a member of the Likud negotiation team said yesterday. “But we will not, under any circumstances, agree to changes in the government’s economic policies – there is an agreement about these between Sharon and Netanyahu.” Another member of the Likud negotiation team said: “Our message to Labor and to the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] parties is that they must not issue exaggerated demands. There is a disengagement plan that has been approved by the government, and we won’t change it.” Sharon, Shas talks slated for next week Yesterday afternoon Sharon met with Shas chair Eli Yishai and encouraged his party to begin coalition negotiations next week. The United Torah Judaism party has decided not to initiate formal coalition negotiations with Likud at this stage. Instead, UTJ will ask Sharon to clarify his intentions. “We will not start talks before we have clarifications from Sharon,” UTJ MK Israel Eichler said yesterday. “We have several questions we want Sharon to answer, and we have to be sure he is serious about coalition talks with our party.”