JERUSALEM (Oct. 21)
Industry and Commerce Minister Ariel Sharon opened a political hornet’s nest this weekend by expressing opposition to government plans to base an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon on the deployment of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troops in that area and by attacking government plans to improve the quality of life for Arabs in Judaea and Samaria. Political analysts viewed Sharon’s twopronged attack as causing what could be the first crack in the national unity government.
In a sharp attack on the withdrawal plans, Sharon told Radio Israel that “this government will survive only if it concentrates on economic problems and on condition that it avoids action in other areas” where differences between Likud and Labor cannot be bridged. He warned that Likud did not agree to a national unity government to serve as a cover for Labor’s defense and foreign affairs plans, which he described as “disastrous.”
Sharon said he ruled out any cooperation with UNIFIL which he said had “cooperated with terrorist organizations, openly and secretly, during the years it was in Lebanon.”
ISRAEL’S POSITION ON UNIFIL
Government officials have said that Israel is ready to talk to the Lebanese under UNIFIL auspices in an effort to arrange sufficient security guarantees to enable the IDF to withdraw from Lebanon. But the officials stressed that such talks could not be within the framework of the Mixed Armistice Commission (MAC) established after the War of Independence in 1948. Israel claims that the Lebanese, by formally joining in the Six-Day War against Israel, abrogated the MAC and it could not now be used as a basis for talks by Lebanon.
The present official Israeli government policy advocates a controlled pull-back by the IDF from Lebanon, based on UNIFIL taking over the area between the Awali and the Zaharani rivers, and the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) controlling the area south of the Zaharani to the international border.
Premier Shimon Peres told the Cabinet today that steps and arrangements under study and discussion for an IDF withdrawal had been taken on the basis of decisions reached by the Ministerial Defense Committee. He said the government will decide on further steps in Lebanon at its next meeting.
PLANS FOR WEST BANK ARABS DENOUNCED
Sharon, at a Herut luncheon last Friday in Tel Aviv, also denounced government plans to improve the living conditions of Arabs in the administered territories, plans which the government announced following intense American pressure to do so.
In essence, the plan includes government approval in principle to allow the opening of an Arab bank in the territories, for the first time since 1967. All Arab banks ceased to function after the Six-Day War.
The sole exception was the Falastin Bank in Gaza which was not permitted to trade in foreign currency. The absence of local banks has been a key factor of slow economic development in the territories.
The plan also includes reducing military censorship of books and the possibility of local Arab residents replacing the government-appointed Jewish mayors of West Bank and Gaza Strip towns. But the plan does not envisage free elections in the territories nor the return of two Arab mayors deported from the West Bank in 1980 after a terrorist attack on yeshiva students in Hebron. But Sharon told the Herut meeting: “All the grandiose plans to develop the Arab localities while freezing Jewish settlements are unacceptable to us.”
Political pundits described these statements as part of an effort by Sharon to shake the basis of the unity government, only five weeks after it was established, His statements came in the wake of growing tension between the Liberals and Herut.
POSSIBLE END OF HERUT-LIBERAL PARTNERSHIP
A case in point was the appearance of Leon Dulzin, chairman of the World Zionist Organization Executive, on Israel TV last night during which he reiterated the need to end the partnership between the Liberals and Herut. Dulzin, a leader of the Liberal Party, said this step was necessary to assure the stability of the unity government for a full four-year term.
Although Dulzin said that Herut should remain in the government even if the Likud coalition is dissolved with the breakup of the Liberal-Herut partnership, his remarks were a clear indication that should Herut leave the unity government, the Liberals would stay in — giving the Labor-led coalition a comfortable majority in the Knesset. These developments were taking place just as the Herut Party Executive was to convene in Tel Aviv tonight.
Sharon’s allies in the government were careful not to issue on the record reactions. However, associates of Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Sharon’s statements reflected the views of Likud. Sources at the Premier’s office said only that the improvement of the quality of life of Arabs in the territories would continue. Sources in the Detense Ministry refused to comment on Sharon’s statements regarding Israel’s cooperation with UNIFIL.