Labor Party Votes to Join Sharon's Coalition

Israel's dovish Labor Party voted Saturday to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) ruling coalition, a move that makes it easier for the Israeli leader to implement his Gaza withdrawal plan next year.

Yoram Dori, an adviser to Labor leader Shimon Peres (search), said coalition talks would begin later Saturday.

Sharon needs to forge an alliance with Labor to push through his plan to pullout of the Gaza Strip next year and to prevent an early election. Sharon's hard-line Likud Party (search) voted Thursday to open coalition talks with Labor. He invited Labor into the government early Friday.

"The Labor Central Committee authorized Shimon Peres to hold talks for a broad coalition. Negotiations with Likud will begin tonight," Dori told The Associated Press.

Sharon's plan to pullout of all Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements next year cost him his parliamentary majority.

Hard-liners in Sharon's Likud Party oppose the plan, and he needs Labor to push through legislation on the withdrawal plan and to prevent an early election. An early election could delay — or derail — the pullout, scheduled to begin in July 2005.

Sharon also has invited two religious parties to join the coalition. Government officials have said the goal is to hold speedy negotiations and form a broad coalition in the next two weeks.

Israeli media reported Sharon, 76, will offer Peres, 81, the post of deputy prime minister.

Sharon and Peres have served together in past governments. Peres served as Sharon's foreign minister from 2001-2002. Since then, the two men have expressed a desire to work together again, but have largely been prevented from doing so by their own supporters.