JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
The Cabinet met today for less than two hours to consider the report by the judicial commission of inquiry and decided to hold another session tomorrow in an apparent effort to provide time for the political scene to be clarified.
The key issue on the Cabinet agenda was whether Defense Minister Ariel Sharon should resign, as the inquiry panel recommended. Israel Radio reported that Premier Menachem Begin announced at the session that he had no intention of dismissing Sharon. The commission had suggested that if Sharon did not “draw personal conclusions” from its findings, the Premier should consider dismissing him.
One senior Likud minister was quoted as saying that if Sharon did not resign of his own choice, the that if Sharon did not resign of his own choice, the matter should be brought before the Cabinet plenary for a decision.
Sharon himself told the Cabinet meeting that one should study carefully the commission’s recommendations and “not act in haste.” He warmly defended the Israel Defense Force officers who were reprimanded in the report.
ADOPTION OF PANEL’S RECOMMENDATIONS URGED
Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich, who is recovering from heart surgery he underwent in the United States last month, recommended in a telephone call to the Cabinet that the commission’s recommendations be adopted in its entirety. This view was reportedly accepted by a large number of ministers.
Rafael Ben-Natan, the behind-the-scenes strongman of the National Religious Party, said his party was demanding that the government honor the recommendation of the inquiry panel, especially since it was established by the government.
OPPOSITION TO SHARON’S RESIGNATION
Meanwhile, as the nation awaited the outcome of the Cabinet’s deliberations, Sharon’s supporters in the Likud rallied to prevent his resignation. One of his key supporters, David Magen, urged the Cabinet to ignore the recommendations of the inquiry panel and to allow Sharon to continue to serve as Defense Minister.
Magen argued that the work of the commission was faulty. He contended the principle of sub judice was violated in that the panel members were influenced by a “lynch” atmosphere created by the mass media against the government. He also accused the commission of having suffered from the “complex of the Agranat report,” a reference to the inquiry commission that was set up after the Yom Kippur War which failed to blame the country’s political leadership for Israel’s lack of preparedness at the time.
However, other coalition partners, such as the Liberal Party wing of Likud, the NRP and Tami, demanded that Sharon resign. The NRP reportedly suggested as an alternative that Sharon remain in the Cabinet but as a Minister-Without-Portfolio.
The Aguda Israel party said it would support any step taken by Begin. The Aguda leaders recalled that they had objected to the establishment of the commission of inquiry in the first place, just as Begin himself had initially resisted it.
The Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction has refrained for the time being from any statements. The faction met in caucus this afternoon to hear a brief statement from Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres.
Peres said, “The recommendations of the commission are unequivocal and serious. We shall wait for the government to draw the full conclusions, both on the personal and the functional level.” Peres added that any delay in drawing those conclusions would be “unacceptable.”
Peres had warned party members several days before the commission published its report to avoid hasty comments when it appeared. He apparently hopes that internal pressures in Likud and the coalition will be strong enough to force the resignation of Sharon.
On the other hand, Peres appears to feel, an all-out attack by Labor could only strengthen those elements in Likud urging rejection of the commission’s recommendations. There was speculation today that the Alignment might strike a deal with Likud for creation of a national unity government in which Peres would replace Sharon as Defense Minister. Peres has strongly rejected those rumors and they were ruled out by the left-wing of the Alignment, notably Mapam and MKs Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni.
While no official comment was available today from Likud or Herut, its members and supporters appeared deeply divided. Demonstrations for and against Sharon were held throughout Israel today, some of them ending in shouting matches between the two sides and in a few instances, blows were exchanged. Most commentators said tonight that the choice before the Cabinet is Sharon’s resignation or a call for new elections.