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Rabin Pursues Right Wing To Broaden His Power Base

By Michael Parks
Los Angeles Times

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Thursday he is negotiating with the right-wing Tsomet Party in an effort to broaden his coalition government, even though the party opposes the agreement he signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization on Palestinian self-government.

"I see it as an urgent necessity to broaden the coalition basis of the government, and I intend to take action to reach that goal," Rabin declared, asserting the massacre of 48 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque last week left his minority government even weaker than before.

Although Tsomet's incorporation in the Cabinet would bring the government five more seats in Parliament, giving it a one-vote majority, the party's staunch opposition to the autonomy agreement and to withdrawal from any occupied territory would throw into question Rabin's ability, even his willingness, to proceed with peace negotiations.

The left-wing Meretz Party, a member of the governing coalition with Rabin's Labor Party, voiced its strong objections to Tsomet and threatened to pull out, if Rabin brought it into the Cabinet.

Founded in 1987, Tsomet is committed to holding all of the biblical Land of Israel, to increasing Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank and to a tougher line on security issues.

"In the severe circumstances that developed following the massacre in Hebron, Tsomet's joining (the government) will be seen as a negative message to our Palestinian partners in negotiations, to Israeli Arabs ... and to the peace process in general and its chances for advancing," Meretz said.

But Rabin said his coalition government needed a strong base and it was unthinkable for crucial decisions on peace to be made by a minority government.

Rabin now has 56 of 120 members of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in his coalition; 44 come from Labor, 12 from Meretz. Five legislators from Arab and Communist parties outside the government also back him.

"The Hebron massacre makes reliance on as wide as possible a coalition in Parliament all the more important," foreign minister Shimon Peres said. "We are talking about Tsomet joining, in effect without changing the guidelines. We will definitely regard this as an important and welcome addition."

Ahmed Tibi, a senior adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, nonetheless warned that Tsomet's inclusion in the Cabinet would "cast a shadow over the future of the peace process" and would run counter to the basic agreement between Israel and the PLO.