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Labor Party outlines terms to join Sharon's government

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — TEL AVIV, Israel - Shimon Peres, leader of Israel's opposition Labor Party, laid out for the first time Friday conditions under which his party would join the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In an interview with The New York Times, he said that Israel's evacuation of the Gaza Strip must be negotiated with the Palestinians, the timetable for the move decided now, and the future of the West Bank worked out now as well. Sharon's plan has not involved those steps.

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"We do not support the plan that exists, and we will try to introduce those three conditions," Peres said in an hourlong interview in his Tel Aviv office.

"We will not join the government before we should have a joint plan of peace. Policy before portfolios."

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Yoram Dori, an adviser to Peres, said that while Peres had mentioned those conditions to Vice President Dick Cheney when they met last week at a birthday party for former President George H.W. Bush he had not made them public before.

Sharon has announced a plan to withdraw from Gaza but, because of objections within his conservative ruling coalition, he has had to scale it back. Instead of a timetable for the withdrawal, the government has decided to vote by March on the specifics.

A senior official in the prime minister's office, told of Peres' comments, said it was too late to impose conditions.

"You can't stop the train after it's left the station," the official said. "If there will be a need to change government to accomplish the plan, he will change government."

Sharon has lost his governing majority over his efforts to leave Gaza and is now one seat short of a 60-vote majority in Parliament. If Sharon could bring the Labor Party into the coalition, he would have a comfortable majority. The party has said for some time that it would not consider joining the Sharon government while the prime minister was under investigation for bribery. This week, the attorney general cleared Sharon of the primary charge against him, removing Labor's main objection.

Many Israelis believe Peres is interested primarily in extracting important ministries for members of his party, and the foreign minister's portfolio for himself, but Peres denied that.

"I'm too experienced to be charmed by a chair at a government table," he said.

Throughout the interview, Peres, who has served in nearly every senior Israeli government position and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was far more indulgent of Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority, than Sharon. Sharon shuns Arafat and has confined him to his compound in Ramallah. Still, Peres said that Israel's real partner for negotiations should be Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian Authority prime minister.

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"He is in my judgment for peace," Peres said. "With him we can negotiate."


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