JERUSALEM (Jun. 22)
The Labor Alignment is once again embroiled in a bitter debate over whether or not to support the government’s handling of the war in Lebanon as rumors floated that Labor was prepared to join Likud in a national unity government.
Labor MK Dov Ben-Meir revived talk of an all-party coalition when he told newspaper and radio reporters today he was sure Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres would agree to a united front with Likud if Premier Menachem Begin asked him to. He said he thought former Premier Yitzhak Rabin felt the same. Neither man would comment immediately. But Peres let it be known this evening that the Labor Alignment did not “presently” contemplate a national unity government.
Moshe Shahal, chairman of Labor’s Knesset faction said the subject was not even being considered and told newsmen the country had far more serious problems to deal with. But the war in Lebanon, which appears to be continuing in and around Beirut has sharpened divisions between hawks and doves in Labor ranks. The party’s Knesset faction postponed a political debate on the war until Begin returns from the U.S. and reports on his talks with President Reagan.
DOVES DEMAND DENUNCIATION OF GOVERNMENT
Dovish MKs such as Yossi Sarid, Uzi Baram and Nava Arad are demanding that the Labor Alignment publicly denounce the government for deviating from its originally stated war aims. When Israel invaded Lebanon on June 5, Begin told the world its objective was to secure a 40 kilometer (25 mile) zone in south Lebanon to assure the safety of northern Israel from terrorist rocket and artillery attacks. But in the first week of fighting, Israeli forces advanced more than double that distance into Lebanon and now surround Beirut.
Labor hawks, led by Rabin, fully justify the conduct of the war to date and are urging Labor to back the government. Peres took the position that the chief concern now is to end the war as soon as possible with as few casualties as possible.
An aide to Peres said today that Labor might be better able to influence the course of the war in Lebanon as a member of the government than in opposition. Some Labor leaders reportedly feel the only way to check Defense Minister Ariel Sharon is by enlarging the Cabinet. The hawkish minister has dominated Cabinet debate over the war and has been accused by colleagues of initiating actions in Lebanon without prior consultation, though apparently with Begin’s personal approval.
TEHIYA REJECTS JOINING LIKUD COALITION
But Sharon was forced to retreat last Sunday when the Cabinet majority decided against the entry of Israeli forces into Beirut to root out Palestine Liberation Organization and Syrian troops barricaded in the western districts of the city. Sharon said he would abide by the decision although he opposed it. But yesterday, he told Israel Radio that the army has not achieved all of its objectives because the PLO still retains some fighting capacity in west Beirut.
Meanwhile, the ultra-nationalist Tehiya party rejected by a 16-4 vote a proposal by its MK Geula Cohen to join the Likud coalition. Nevertheless, the party secretariate expressed complete support for the operations in Lebanon and warned the government not to “squander the gains of the military through political concessions.”