Likud, Nat'l Union to Hold Further Coalition Talks Tuesday

Sides to meet again Tuesday; Lapid: Sharon committed to following Bush's 'road map' for peace; Shas furious over being left out of government.

The Likud and National Union will meet again Tuesday for coalition talks that ended in a deadlock Monday evening over the creation of a Palestinian state, which the far-right National Union vociferously opposes.

The Likud coalition team presented a document at Monday's meeting stipulating that the government would operate on the basis of Sharon's "Herzliya speech," and that this would be an integral part of the government guidelines.

In that speech, at a conference in Herzliya several months ago, Sharon said he was committed to the vision of a permanent settlement that U.S. President George W. Bush had outlined for Israel and the Palestinians, and which includes the creation of a Palestinian state at the end of the process.

National Union leader Avigdor Lieberman said he was not prepared to accept any mention of a Palestinian state in the government guidelines, and the meeting ended with the Likud team promising to come up with a "creative" solution to the dispute.

A further meeting between the two parties scheduled for Monday night was later cancelled, Channel One television reported. The two sides are expected to meet again Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, Shinui Chairman Yosef "Tommy" Lapid said on Army Radio that he had received a letter from Sharon in which the prime minister committed himself to following Bush's "road map" for peace in the Middle East, with dozens of adjustments proposed by a Likud team last week.

Shinui signed a coalition agreement with Likud in the early hours of Monday morning, according to which the stridently secular party will get five ministerial portfolios, including the Interior and Justice ministries. Lapid is expected to take justice for himself, while MK Avraham Poraz is likely to get interior.

Shinui will also get the National Infrastructures portfolio, Environment and Science. In addition, Lapid will serve as deputy Prime Minister and will be a member of Sharon's kitchen cabinet.

Sharon plans to present his new 61-member coalition to the Knesset on Thursday.

Fuming at being excluded from the coalition, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef lashed out at Sharon on Monday, calling him the "prime minister of garbage cans."

But Shas members were as bitter in their criticism of the NRP as they were of the prime minister. Outgoing Labor and Social Affairs Minister Shlomo Benizri described the Shinui-NRP deal as an "unsacred pact."

Party leader Eli Yishai, who will have to hand over control of the powerful Interior Ministry to Shinui, predicted an economic "catastrophe" and promised Sharon nothing less than a revolution in the streets.

He said that the prime minister had "betrayed" the Sephardi Orthodox and Likud voters by preferring to put together a coalition that included neither the religious nor the weaker sectors of society.