Likud to Labor: Take It or Leave It

"If Labor does not accept Sharon's ultimatum within two days, we're going to new elections."

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, | updated: 09:48

So said sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday, following his "take it or leave it" coalition offer to the Labor Party.

After days of speculation as to which ministerial portfolios would be offered to Labor and which ones they would demand, PM Sharon laid out the list of six ministries he is willing to cede to Labor. The list is topped by the Ministry of the Interior, which was recently vacated by the Shinui Party and is greatly coveted by many in the Likud. The others are Housing, Welfare, Communications, Infrastructures, and either Environment or Tourism. In addition, Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres would replace Ehud Olmert as Vice Prime Minister, and Labor would be represented by two other ministers-without-portfolios.

Labor negotiating team head MK Dalia Itzik said in response that issuing ultimatums is not an acceptable way to act during such negotiations. "The Likud is holding 99% of the portfolios," she said. "Where do they get this chutzpah?" MK Chaim Ramon, who has consistently been in favor of joining the government at almost any price, with the sole aim of carrying out the disengagement/expulsion plan, said, "If they don't want to give us satisfactory portfolios, that's fine; we'll join without receiving any portfolios, and we'll ensure that the withdrawal goes through."

Aides in Sharon's circle were dismissive of Labor, saying that though their demands are currently excessive, "in the end, they'll give in. They're weaklings." Another said that there is no leadership in Labor, but merely "a fight for the leadership."

Peres and Sharon are meeting today.

A Thursday afternoon meeting between the religious Shas party (11 Knesset seats) and Likud representatives ended with Shas saying that it will remain in the oppostion. Shas wants the freedom to vote against the withdrawal/transfer plan, while Sharon refuses to allow this. Leaders of both parties said that they may meet for another round of talks next week.

The ruling Likud Party currently maintains a one-party government coalition with 40 out of 120 Knesset seats. The Labor party’s 19 Knesset members along with one religious party, namely Shas or United Torah Judaism (UTJ), would give the Likud its needed 61-member majority coalition.