Mitzna rules out national unity government

15 January 2003
Israel's Labour party will not join a national unity government with Ariel Sharon's Likud party, its leader Amram Mitzna announced on 14 January, increasing the likelihood that the country will be government by a fragile right-wing grouping after 28 January's general election. 'We will not be in a government led by Sharon,' declared Mitzna. 'Anyone who doesn't vote for Labour is voting for Sharon.' Analysts said that the stance was designed to increase Labour's coherence as an alternative to Likud, in the wake of the narrowing gap between them in the polls since the Sharon corruption scandal broke. On the other hand, Israelis view a national unity government positively in times of security threats, and Mitzna risks losing their support over his stance. Sharon immediately attempted to take advantage of the latter sentiment, telling reporters in Haifa: 'In the light of the challenges facing us and those we can expect in the future, a national unity government is more important than ever.' Likud officials said that the Labour leader's decision risks Sharon having to lead a coalition with small right-wing and religious parties, holding only 61 or 62 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

South African police have launched their own investigation, parallel to that in Israel, into the illegal loan which precipitated the plunge in support for Sharon. South African businessman Cyril Kern is alleged to have provided a $1.5 million loan to allow Sharon to repay unlawful campaign donations received during the 1999 general election. Justice Ministry spokesman Paul Setsetse said that the ministry had acceded to a request for assistance by the Israeli authorities for assistance, but would also be looking at whether the transaction may have broken South African laws.

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