Israel’s ruling Likud party is in the final stages of talks with the left-wing opposition to form a unity government. A deal is all but in the bag, but negotiations have snagged on legal issues over the appointment of Labour leader Shimon Peres as deputy prime minister to Ariel Sharon. It is also unclear if the premier will secure the support of an orthodox Jewish party which has thorny relations both with Likud and Labour.
Sharon needs Peres and small religious groupings in parliament to rebuild his coalition after his main partner quit over a budget dispute. Under the deal, Labour would control five ministries while Likud would keep the top cabinet posts. Some Israelis believe a unity government could offer fresh hope for peace with the Palestinians. Labour is a staunch supporter of the prime minister’s plan to pull Jewish settlers and troops out of the Gaza strip and to evacuate four West Bank outposts next year.