Likud and Labor teams holding coalition talks agreed Thursday that a government would be established within two weeks of signing any agreement.
In a meeting in Kfar Hamaccabiah, Labor negotiators pressed for a quick conclusion to coalition talks. Three more meetings have been scheduled for next week.
Meanwhile, Labor and Shinui are holding talks on forming a bloc to prevent the establishment of any coalition not agreeable to both sides.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office played down the importance of Labor-Shinui talks.
"We don’t see them operating along this axis. It was merely one meeting, an attempt at a show of strength," said a source in Sharon’s office.
"They don’t threaten anyone. The prime minister can still call for elections; he won’t make it easy for them. Sharon will not give up the disengagement," the source added.
At a meeting Thursday with Likud branch heads, Sharon complained that Likud internal opposition has left him no choice but to expand the coalition, warning that if a national unity government is not formed, he will have to go to elections.
"The disengagement is the most important plan Israel has at this time. I can’t go back on it; it would be irresponsible of me as prime minister not to carry it out," Sharon said.
Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau, who leads the opposition to the disengagement and to a unity government, responded to Sharon’s statements, saying "there is no real need to bring in Labor. The present situation is the result of the Likud’s reneging on its promises and adopting a clearly leftist policy that holds many dangers."
Also Thursday, Labor demanded a special Knesset debate on the unilateral disengagement plan next Wednesday in the company of the prime minister.
Labor filed a request signed by 40 MKs calling for a special debate in which Sharon is required to participate.
Labor leader Shimon Peres told Israel Radio on Thursday that he hasn’t ruled out forming part of a government with the ultra-Orthodox parties, but wouldn’t sit in a coalition with those opposed to the disengagement plan.
On Wednesday, Peres met with Shas Chairman Eli Yishai; Shinui’s leader Justice Minister Yosef Lapid met with senior Labor officials headed by Itzik.
On Monday, the Knesset will debate five no-confidence motions. A Labor motion protests the government’s socio-economic policy while a Shas motion deal with civil marriage issues. A motion filed by Balad protests the government policy in the territories while motions from Yahad and United Torah Judaism deal with socio-political matters.