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      Coalition Negotiations Amid Talk of Early Elections

      The opposition Shas party, currently in negotiations with the one-party minority government, has withdrawn a no-confidence motion originally scheduled for Monday.
      First Publish: 12/6/2004, 7:24 PM / Last Update: 12/6/2004, 12:01 PM

      Knesset representatives said the Shas party withdrew the motion as a gesture of "good will" to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and because it was unlikely to pass in any case. Although the no-confindence motion was in response to the government's economic policies, the Labor party was expected to defeat the motion and support the Likud government.

      Labor is staunchly opposed to the budget reforms implemented by the Sharon government, but will support the government today in order to safeguard Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan. In addition, both Labor and Shas are currently in negotiations to join the Likud coalition government.

      Likud Central Committee member Aviad Visouly has submitted an alternative proposal for Thursday's session of the Likud legislative body. He stated that coalition negotiators should only deal with parties opposed to the disengagement plan. This would rule out Labor and pave the way for a right-wing coalition.

      For his part, Sharon sent letters to members of the Likud Central Committee Monday morning, them to support his initiative to bring Labor into the government. The Prime Minister's current 40-member minority government now must face 80 Knesset members in the opposition. Typically, government coalitions contain a minimum of 60 MKs. Sharon has threatened that if Labor is not brought into the government he will call for new elections.

      As much as the Likud is divided on inviting the Labor party into the government, Labor is divided on agreeing to the invitation.

      Knesset Member and candidate for head of the Labor party Matan Vilnai said today that Labor joining a Likud coalition and remaining in the government until 2006 is a bad idea. Vilnai's statements were prompted by remarks made on Sunday by current party leader MK Shimon Peres. Peres called for delaying internal party primaries to concentrate on coalition talks with the Likud, and on promoting the Gaza disengagement plan.

      The Labor party appeals committee decided Monday morning to hold a secret ballot to determine when primaries will be held.