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Sharon Reaches Agreement on 'Right Leaning' Coalition - 2003-02-26

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reached an agreement, early Wednesday, on forming a right-leaning coalition government. The new government will hold an eight-seat majority in parliament.

A statement issued by Mr. Sharon's Likud Party says the new government will include the right-wing National Union Party, which supports Jewish settlements on occupied land and opposes a Palestinian state. The statement said representatives of Likud, the staunchly secular Shinui Party, the National Union and National Religious Party completed the formulation of coalition agreements and policy guidelines for the new government.

Likud, which won the general election on January 28, failed to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament, making formation of a coalition necessary.

The government, with a substantial minority opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, is not seen as one that can make much progress in efforts to end nearly two-and-a-half years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Mr. Sharon is expected to present the coalition to the parliament on Thursday. He had tried to bring his main rival, the centre-left Labor Party, into the coalition, to avoid being dependent on right-wing parties. But Labor cut off negotiations on Sunday, saying it could not find a common basis with Mr. Sharon on dismantling some Jewish settlements and rousing the economy out of recession.

Analysts here say Mr. Sharon has been under pressure from Washington to find a more-moderate partner, willing to make concessions to the Palestinians after any war in Iraq.

Mr. Sharon had been expected to hold off on forming a government a bit longer, in the hope an American-led war in Iraq might persuade Labor to join him in a unity government, in the face of a national emergency.