Israel coalition talks set to begin

Israel's opposition Labour Party is to enter coalition talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Labour leader Shimon Peres has said.

    Peres said that an agreement with Likud could be reached soon

    Peres said on Saturday that the talks could be resolved in days and would put Sharon’s Gaza pullout plan back on the agenda.

    "The will of the people ... is to have a unity government in which its main issue and goal is to carry out the [Gaza] pullout," he said in Tel Aviv. "If we join the government and see there's no disengagement ... we'll leave," he said.

    "But will we leave if there will be another step towards peace after the pullout? Of course not," he added.

    Sharon's plan to "disengage" from with the Palestinians consists of evacuating all 21 Jewish colonies in Gaza but only four of the 120 in the West Bank, in 2005.

    Sharon courts Peres

    Sharon had phoned Peres, his old ideological rival, on Friday to invite his party to join after Likud members voted on Thursday to overturn its earlier ban on negotiating an alliance.

    Peres (L), served as Sharon's
    foreign minister from 2001-2002

    But haggling over ministry portfolios, differences over the budget and the entry of two Orthodox Jewish parties could slow the process.

    Peres, 81, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Sharon, 76, a former general who once championed the settler movement, have forged such an alliance before. Peres served as foreign minister under a Sharon-led unity government from 2001 to 2002.

    This time, Sharon is expected to keep the top portfolios in Likud hands while offering Peres the post of deputy prime minister, political sources said.

    Polls show most Israelis favour parting with impoverished Gaza, but hardliners are against returning any of the Palestinian territories seized after the 1967 Middle East war.

    Palestinians fear it is a ruse to cement Israel's hold on the West Bank, where the vast majority of settlers live.

    "Disengaging from Gaza is not easy," Peres said. "It's hard to evacuate settlers and settlements. The price is peace. We are joining [the government] in order to make peace."

    The results of coalition negotiations would still need to be approved by Labour's central committee before the party can join Sharon's government.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.