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Peres moves cautiously on peace strategy, despite electoral boost

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``Wait and see.'' This seems to be the current Mideast negotiating strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, despite an electoral boost over his more conservative coalition government partners.

Election results released Tuesday showed gains for Mr. Peres's Labor Party over the rightist Likud in voting for the leadership of Israel's huge national trade union organization, the Histadrut. With his rating in opinion polls steadily rising, Peres has been under pressure from some aides to scrap his eight-month-old coalition accord with the Likud and force early elections for Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The Peres entourage would like a popular mandate for Labor to govern alone -- freeing the party from various Likud policy constraints, notably on issues of overall peace with the Arabs. Peres is portrayed by aides as keen to seize any realistic chance for direct talks with Jordan and the Palestinians, whatever the domestic political risks involved.

However, for the moment, he seems more likely to wait and see.

Among issues he'll be watching are prospects for thawing the ``cold peace'' with Egypt. An Israeli delegation was to head for Cairo late Tuesday to explore chances for progress on issues that have strained ties between Israel and Egypt, including Israeli involvement in Lebanon, a dispute over a patch of land on the countries' Sinai border, and the future of Palestinians on the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On the issue of the Palestinians there are especially sharp differences between Labor and Likud, which considers the formerly Jordanian-ruled West Bank a nonnegotiable part of Israel.

But there are two reasons Peres is seen as leery of immediately breaking up his coalition with the Likud.

One is United States Secretary of State George Shultz's recent Mideast visit which, in Israel's view, stopped short of clearing obstacles to widening the Israeli-Egyptian peace to include Jordan and the Palestinians.


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