Israeli Labour party leader Amram Mitzna is coming under intense pressure to reconsider his refusal to join a unity coalition with re-elected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. There is speculation that the party could even split over the issue. President Moshe Katsav on 29 January added his voice to the chorus, saying: 'I understand Amram Mitzna's very topical considerations, but despite this I call on him to join a unity coalition.' Labour suffered its worst ever defeat in 28 January's election, winning only 19 seats in the Knesset to Likud's 37. The centrist secular Shinui party and the ultra-orthodox Shas party achieved 15 and 11 seats respectively. Since Shinui leader Yosef Lapid has ruled out serving in a coalition including the religious parties, Labour's position would force Sharon to form a narrowly-based government with right-wing and religious parties. The prime minister urged Mitzna to change his mind: 'The differences between us are dwarfed by the murderous hatred of the terror organisations,' he said. Many in Mitzna's own party would also prefer to join the government. The Labour leader's position on 29 January was unchanged. 'It is no shame to be in the opposition and I promise you that our time will be short,' he said.
Palestinian leaders have reacted with dismay to the election result. Spokesman Saeb Erekat expressed the fear that conditions for Palestinians could deteriorate further given Israel's shift to the right. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 29 January proposed a meeting with Sharon, but the offer was swiftly turned down.