JERUSALEM (May. 16)
The Labor Party’s leadership is urgently trying to dampen the long simmering feud between Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres which flared openly at a Labor Alignment leadership meeting in Tel Aviv last Thursday night. Peres delivered what political sources described as the most bitter and unrestrained attack ever made on the Premier by a party colleague.
Labor Party Secretary General Meir Zarmi reportedly has been meeting with the two ministers over the weekend in an effort to bring them together to iron out their differences. But most observers believe the conflict is too wide and deep to respond to mediation efforts and the best that can be expected is temporary papering over of the dispute.
BASIS FOR PERES’ ATTACK
Peres was incensed by remarks attributed to “an inside source very close to Rabin” published by Haaretz columnist, Yoel Marcus. The Defense Minister accused Rabin of trying to set himself up as a quasi-autocratic ruler without regard to the views of other ministers or of important sections of his own Labor Party.
A “source close to Rabin” told newsmen Friday the Premier felt that Peres had cited “out-of-context” statements from the Haaretz article and had made a tendentious and emotional attack. According to the source, that was all Rabin intended to say in reply to Peres and he hoped the incident would now be closed.
Peres was affronted by a number of personal and political remarks attributed to Rabin. These included the alleged assertion by the Premier that he was not dominated by his Defense Minister as he claimed former Premier Golda Meir had been dominated by Moshe Dayan during her administration. Rabin also reportedly expressed the wish that the Premier be empowered to fire a Cabinet minister. Under present Israeli law this cannot be done.
Peres retorted that Rabin could fire his ministers by resigning himself, thereby dissolving the government. Peres also took angry issue with Rabin’s reported belief that the Rafi wing of the Labor Party–of which Peres and his predecessor, Dayan are leaders–is not as strong as it once was.
RABIN’S WEST BANK POLICIES SCORED
But the Defense Minister aimed his sharpest attack on Rabin’s policies with regard to Jewish settlement on the West Bank. He demanded to know what right Rabin had to say that Kiryat Arba was a mistake and, by implication, that Upper Nazareth was a mistake. Kiryat Arba is a Jewish enclave adjacent to the Arab town of Hebron established by Orthodox nationalists some years ago. Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town adjacent to Nazareth, in Galilee, the largest Arab town in Israel.
Rabin had told a meeting of key members of the Labor Party’s moshavim section last week that the money and effort the government had expended on Kiryat Arba could have been used to better advantage in the Gush Etzion area midway between Jerusalem and Hebron. The Premier noted that a large number of flats were vacant in Kiryat Arba and there was no apparent desire by Israelis to move into the enclave. He asserted that Kiryat Arba’s failure proved that it had been a mistake to develop Jewish appendages to major Arab population centers.
Rabin also told the same meeting that his government generally adhered to the settlement policies of Mrs. Meir’s government which are based on a fundamental readiness for territorial concessions. Peres angrily demanded to know by what right the Premier could speak of Israel’s readiness for large-scale withdrawals from the West Bank.
Peres claimed that the Rabin government was, in fact, going beyond the settlement policy of the Meir government. He said that in addition to Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley, the present regime supports Jewish settlements, for security reasons, on the easternmost ridge of the Samarian highlands. This, he said, meant that the government is irrevocably opposed to ceding territory west of the Jordan River to any foreign government.
Peres maintained that in the interests of security. Israel should in fact permanently retain the entire Samaria region. Rabin has said that to do so would deprive Israel of its credibility as a negotiating partner in future peace talks with the Arabs. Rabin also accused the Likud opposition of hypocrisy in supporting the Gush Emunim squatters at Kadum. He pointed out that Likud’s predecessor. Gahal, a member of Premier Meir’s national unity coalition of 1967-70, had supported settlement policies that excluded the Arab populated Samarian highlands.
MRS. MEIR FEELS INSULTED
Peres’ broadside against Rabin prompted Likud to submit an urgent motion in the Knesset calling for the resignation of the government on grounds that it could not function with the Premier and Defense Minister constantly at odds. The Labor Party leadership is obviously cognizant of the perils of continued disunity within party ranks.
Mrs. Meir, who was invited to come out of retirement last year to participate in top Labor Party leadership forums as a “new face” and unifying influence, reportedly felt insulted by Rabin’s alleged remark that she had deferred to her Defense Minister. She was said to have told close associates over the weekend that she would no longer attend party meetings. She was unexpectedly absent from Thursday night’s Labor Alignment meeting.
It had been called as part of the continuing discussion between Labor and Mapam over whether the latter would remain in the Alignment. That matter, vital to the Alignment’s future, was all but drowned out by Peres’ attack on Rabin. The Defense Minister refused pleas by Zarmi to “stick to the agenda.”
Political observers here believe that Rabin is deliberately seeking a show-down with Peres. The Defense Minister has picked up the gauntlet and no amount of persuasion and appeals for party unity can avert a fight to the finish between the two ministers, they said.