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Labor cant join

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-Mitzna to tell Sharon Labor still can't join

By Yossi Verter and Jonathan Lis

Labor leader Amram Mitzna will today meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the first time since Tuesday's elections and will apparently tell Sharon Labor cannot join any coalition under his lead.

President Moshe Katsav will meet this morning with representatives of the various parties before he asks one to form a government - almost certainly Likud leader and outgoing prime minister Ariel Sharon.

In discussions Mitzna held with senior party members yesterday - including Avraham Burg, Avraham Shochat, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Yuli Tamir - it was agreed that Mitzna would not reject Sharon's invitation to join the coalition outright, so as not to reject Sharon in person. Mitzna will instead explain that Labor cannot join a government unless Sharon agrees to implement the platform Labor had promised its voters - to evacuating the Gaza Strip of Israelis, relocating isolated and illegal settlements, reassigning NIS 1.5 billion from the settlements' budget to social portfolios, and completing the West Bank security fence.

Mitzna has not met with Shimon Peres, who in principle supports negotiations with the Likud.

In an interview with Dan Shilon on Channel 2 yesterday, Mitzna apologized for harsh words he had used against Sharon during the election campaign. "I particularly regret the way I attacked Sharon," Mitzna said. "I think the words `godfather' and `the family' were a mistake made in the heat of the elections. But I did say these things, and for that I apologize."

In Labor's discussions it was agreed Mitzna would tell Sharon that Labor's former ministers from his coalition are highly critical of the way he ran the unity government in the second half of its term, and that Labor would provide a safety net for the government during an Iraq war.

"Tommy Lapid thought we'd rush in [to a coalition] and he would come with his principles, but he now realizes he was wrong; that's why he's frustrated," a Labor source said yesterday. "Lapid was hoping the Labor party would join and lose even more of its power and now he is trying to blame us for the fact there won't be a unity government."

A senior party source nevertheless said that should Sharon offer Mitzna "a secular unity government," namely, a coalition with Shinu, Labor, and Yisrael b'Aliyah - Labor will not be able to refuse. "Mitzna will object to this constellation as well, but almost all senior party members would want to take such an offer seriously and so would the party center," the source said.

The Likud will be the first party to be meet the president today at 10 A.M. The party's team will include Minister Reuven Rivlin, MKs Zeev Boim and Yisrael Katz, the new MK Gideon Saar and Likud director general Arik Brami. Labor, Shinui, Shas, National Union and Meretz will each have a one-hour session with the president later today.

Although the president will not get the official result of the elections until Wednesday, he decided to start meeting the parties today to speed the formation of a new government.

Meanwhile objections are being heard in Likud that Sharon might invite Shinui to join the government and concede to its demands on the issues of church-state separation. "Sharon must not break his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, who have been faithful followers in all coalitions, just to rely on a party of 50 percent Meretz veterans," party sources said yesterday.


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