Netanyahu woos moderate to bolster coalition Government is 'returning to a right path,' says ex-Foreign Minister Levy


JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to bring his former foreign minister, David Levy, back into his Cabinet in an effort to shore up his disintegrating coalition and to increase his chances of re-election or assembling a unity government.

Levy, a political moderate who resigned in January after denouncing the Netanyahu administration as aimless, said yesterday that he would return, though the terms are still under negotiation.

A veteran of Israeli politics, Levy has been offered either the Finance Ministry or the National Infrastructures Ministry, a place in the inner circle, a role in the "final-status" talks with the Palestinians and a chance to lead future negotiations with Syria.

Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon canceled trips abroad yesterday to concentrate on stabilizing the deeply divided government. Since the prime minister signed a land-for-security accord with the Palestinians last month, his right-wing coalition has been in a shambles.

"I always said I wanted to widen the base of the government," Netanyahu said. "It should reflect the wide support which our policy has in the Israeli public."

Although polls have shown that Israelis broadly endorse the peace effort, the Cabinet majority that ratified the Wye agreement was shaky and the accord passed parliament only with opposition support. Netanyahu is marshaling his resources to clear a serious political hurdle next month -- the always-contentious budget vote.

It was after the last budget vote that Levy quit, scathing in his denunciation of a "government on a flight to nowhere." In addition to criticizing what he saw as a lack of social spending, Levy said he was disgusted by the stalemate in the peace effort.

Now Levy says he believes the government is "returning to a right path."

"Today, there is a diplomatic process in full swing," he said. "And there is a readiness to make the required adjustments in the budget regarding social issues."

Finance Minister Yaacov Neeman, an independent, offered yesterday to step aside if it would help Netanyahu create a more broadly based Israeli government.

"A unity government will require a reshuffling of the Cabinet, and I have no personal interest -- I only see the national interest," Neeman said.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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