JERUSALEM (Apr. 14)
Premier Shimon Peres sustained a severe blow to his status and prestige today when his Cabinet voted 10-9 not to approve the visit to Cairo tomorrow by Minister-Without-Portfolio Ezer Weizman who had been invited by Egyptian Prime Minister Kemal Hassan Ali.
As an angered and embarrassed Peres pointed out to his ministers afterwards, this was the first time the Cabinet has ever failed to approve a minister’s trip abroad. “I regard this as very serious indeed,” Peres said.
According to political observers, unless the Ministerial Defense Committee or the 10-man “inner cabinet” comprising senior Labor and Likud ministers reverses the decision when it meets to discuss the matter tomorrow, the Labor-Likud unity coalition government is not likely to survive. Peres would be almost certain to resign after suffering such a personal rebuff, the observers said.
But they believe the decision will be reversed, that Weizman would leave for Cairo, if a little late, and that the Likud ministers, having made their point, would not force a crisis confrontation.
Nevertheless, serious damage appeared to have been done to the sometimes strained but generally good working relationship between Peres and Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier.
SHAMIR LED CABINET FIGHT
Shamir led the fight against the trip at today’s Cabinet session. Sources close to Peres said the Premier had been led astray. They said he and Shamir had agreed privately last week that Weizman would make the trip which was officially designated a good-will visit in his private capacity.
Cabinet sources said Shamir balked at what he considered the changed nature of Weizman’s trip after his agreement with Peres. He referred to a published interview with Osama Al-Baz, a close aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in which the Egyptian diplomat was quoted as saying that Weizman’s meetings with Hassan Ali and Foreign Minister Abdel Ismet Meguid would be preparatory to a Mubarak-Peres summit meeting.
Shamir also complained about the relatively large press entourage which was to accompany Weizman and to pronouncements by the Minister-Without-Portfolio making a “big event” of the visit.
Shamir has consistently opposed any involvement by Weizman in foreign policy matters generally and in the Israel-Egyptian relationship in particular. His objections are gounded in Weizman’s well known position as a dove and his insistence that he alone, as Foreign Minister, conducts Israel’s foreign policy.
Shamir has also come under heavy pressure from hardliners in his own Herut party and from the right-wing opposition faction, Tehiya, to assert his command of foreign policy by negating Weizman’s trip to Cairo. Shamir had already instructed Israel’s Ambassador in Cairo, Moshe Sasson, not to accompany Weizman on any of his meetings with Egyption officials.
LABOR LET DOWN BY THEIR ALLIES
At today’s Cabinet session, the Labor ministers were let down by their presumed allies, Yigael Hurwitz of the one-man Ometz faction and Religious Affairs Minister Yosef Burg, leader of the National Religious Party, both of whom abstained in the vote.
Another Labor ally, Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Shinui faction, was absent, as was Interior Minister Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz of the religious faction, Shash. The latter is considered an ally of Likud.
Peres noted that Weizman had been invited by the Egyptian Premier and that he, Peres, after consulting with Shamir, had informed the Egyptians that Weizman would be coming. (By David Landau)