JERUSALEM (May. 27)
Premier Menachem Begin announced a major Cabinet reshuffle today which would shift foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the past of Defense Minister, replacing Ezer Weizman who officially resigned yesterday. Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai, the newly emerged strong man of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, would become Foreign Minister, and Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Nissim, also of the Liberal Party, would succeed to the energy Ministry post.
But Begin’s decisions, viewed here as deft political footwork aimed at restoring unity to his increasingly restive coalition, promptly ran into trouble when the Democratic Movement, headed by Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, informed him that Modai was unacceptable. Their position infuriated circles close to Begin inasmuch as the DM, the smallest faction in the coalition, had previously vetoed the naming of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon as the new Defense Minister.
A meeting between Begin and the DM leaders this evening reached no conclusions and was adjourned for consultations. The National Religious Party and Likud’s La’am faction also expressed anger that Begin had announced his reshuffle without prior consultation with them. La’am, too, is opposed to Modai, but not for the same reasons as the DM.
The NRP, which first appeared to be happy with Begin’s choices, is apparently troubled because it had expected Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, to be elevated to the Cabinet, in which case their own man, Yehoda Ben Meir, would have succeeded to the powerful Knesset post.
Begin, however, was careful to rearrange the portfolios within the ranks of the present Cabinet. Sharon, a hard-line militant, had threatened to resign if an outsider was brought in as Defense Minister. He, in fact, had presented himself as the most suitable candidate and may, indeed, have been Begin’s first choice. But the Liberal Party, as well as the DM, was adamantly apposed.
NEED TO SATISFY THE LIBERALS
Begin’s first concern apparently was to satisfy the Liberals who have been chafing since Simcho Ehrlich was forced to resign as Finance Minister last year. They will now have their own man in the most senior and prestigious Cabinet post, if Begin’s plan is implemented, as well as the important Energy Ministry. But, although Modai is a hard-liner who has consistently taken tougher positions on key issues than most of his Liberal colleagues, the weighting of the Cabinet on the Liberal Party side is bound to anger members of Begin’s own Herut faction.
There was strong Herut sentiment in favor of Sharon as Defense Minister, but Shamir, whose Herut credentials are firm and who is as much a hard-liner as Sharon, although less flamboyant, is probably acceptable to the majority of his colleagues as the new defense chief. He was named Foreign Minister only two months ago, replacing Moshe Dayan who resigned last October. He is opposed to the Camp David formulas and the peace treaty with Egypt on grounds that Israel’s concessions were not matched by the Egyptians.
FURTHER TILT TO THE RIGHT
The Cabinet reshuffle, if confirmed, will give the government a further tilt to the right. According to observers, this means an even tougher stand on such matters as the autonomy talks with Egypt, which have been in suspension for the post two weeks; Jewish settlements on the West Bank; and quelling Palestinian unrest in the occupied territories.
Weizman, who in an angry letter of resignation yesterday flatly accused Begin and his regime of throwing away chances for peace, had been considered a force for moderation in the Cabinet. He and Dayan are credited with having influenced Begin to make concessions at the Camp David meetings in September 1978 and in the negotiations for the peace treaty with Egypt that followed.
But Begin’s latest inducements to the Liberal Party have apparently de fused reported moves by Weizman to join forces with moderate Liberals such as Ehrlich and Leon Dulzin to form a political center under his leadership which would confront Begin in the next elections.
The Knesset was preparing to convene in special session Thursday to confirm Begin’s Cabinet anointments which, as of tonight, remained uncertain. Meanwhile, it easily defeated a motion of no-confidence in the government over Weizman’s resignation which was presented by Uri Avneri of the opposition Sheli faction. It had only five supporters. The Labor Party, the largest opposition faction, abstained.
Begin had planned to make the formal announcement of his Cabinet appointments at a meeting of the Likud Knesset faction tonight, but has been forced to delay it, according to observers because of the DM’s adamant opposition to Modai and a reported new threat by Sharon to resign unless he is named to the defense post. Begin was meeting with ministers and leaders of the various Knesset factions this evening in an effort to iron out the new difficulties.