Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Friday his Labor Party would not join a coalition led by the right-wing Likud Party unless Labor's peace programs were adopted.
"We are interested in one central thing: the continuation of the peace process," Peres told Army Radio. "We won't join any government that doesn't have a plan for peace."The statement all but ruled out Labor entering a "national unity" government as a junior partner. Many Labor leaders and left-wing parties have urged Peres to form a strong opposition bloc and not compromise on any of Labor's policies.
The Central Elections Committee Friday released the final results of Tuesday's election, giving Labor and Likud each an extra seat in the 120-member parliament at the expense of two small Arab parties.
Likud received 40 seats to Labor's 39, leaving Likud in a stronger position to form the next government with a coalition of right-wing and religious parties, which made a surprisingly strong showing at the polls.
The results increased the right-wing bloc's total number of seats to 65 and reduced the left-wing bloc by one. The final allocation of seats in the Knesset, or parliament, came after the votes cast by soldiers on active duty were tallied.
Four religious parties, which won 18 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, appear to hold the key to forming any coalition. Both Shamir and Peres met with representatives of those parties Wednesday, and a Likud negotiating team continued talks Thursday.
Israelis - non-religious and religious - said they were apprehensive about how many concessions the religious parties will extract from any major party in exchange for their backing. Rabbi David Hartman, a prominent Jewish scholar, said the result could be "potentially divisive and destructive of the whole Zionist renaissance."
But Shamir tried to dispel concerns the religious parties would have an overbearing influence in any coalition he led.
"I feel responsible to the public," Shamir told Israel Television. "We will only agree to logical things. I haven't heard anything from them that would frighten anyine. These parties are standing on the staus quo."
National Religious Party leader Avner Shaki tried to allay public fears of excessive requests by religious factions. Israel Radio reported that NRP sources said the party would prefer a coalition led by Shamir that included only Labor and the Zionist NRP instead of a coalition that involved the non-Zionist religious factions.
"Just the contrary. We are just going to ask the main and the most important things," Shaki told Israel Radio before a negotiating session. "We are going to do our best to make sure that we are bringing people together, and not to put any wall in between."
The NRP differs from the three other religious parties in that its base of support is not the ultra-Orthodox community, and it places great importance on continued Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.