New Dispute Rocks Unity Government

A new dispute in the national unity government is threatening to further deteriorate the relationship between Labor and Likud Cabinet ministers. The argument revolves around the takeover and subsequent eviction of a group of Kiryat Arba settlers and six Likud Knesset members from an apartment in the Arab marketplace in central Hebron.

The clash between Labor and Likud began over a week ago as each accused the other of misinterpreting the legality of Jews buying and then settling into apartments in the Arab quarter of Hebron.

Labor leaders argued that it contravened the law of Israel which prohibits the purchase by Jews of real estate on the West Bank unless it is first approved by the Defense Ministry. Likud leaders contended that Jews have a right to settle anywhere in Eretz Yisrael. Labor led the day when the group of Kiryat Arba settlers were evicted from the Hebron apartment and, following that, when the MKs left the apartment after they were ordered to do so by the army.

LABOR ACCUSED OF CONDUCTING ‘WHITE PAPER’ POLICY

The dispute continued to simmer last week after the apartment was emptied and sealed off by the army but erupted into a war of words when Sharon accused Premier Shimon Peres and the Labor Party of conducting a “White Paper” policy — similar to that of the British Mandatory government when it banned the purchase of land by Jews from Arabs. Furthermore, Sharon accused the Labor Party of lying about the land purchase policy adopted by the government of Premier Menachem Begin.

Speaking to former members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi several days ago, Sharon declared that Labor is “refusing to ratify Jewish land purchases because they say this was the decision of the Begin government in 1979. This is a lie and hypocrisy. They know full well that the Begin government never intended to prevent Jews from buying houses or land anywhere. There is no basis for this hypocritical pretense. But according to Peres and (Defense Minister Yitzhak) Rabin, they are religiously implementing Likud decisions.”

Sharon also charged that “anybody not present at Cabinet sessions cannot imagine the outright hatred for Jewish settlements on the part of Labor ministers.

Health Minister Mordechai Gur, in an angry response, denounced Sharon as a liar and suggested that if he did not agree with Peres implementing decisions of the Begin government then “he and his like” should quit the government. Peres, himself, said he could not think of any other example of a minister who had denounced his own government the way Sharon did.

The public charges by Sharon had been preceeded by an attack by Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir at last Sunday’s closed-door meeting of the 10-member Inner Cabinet. During its discussion about the Hebron apartment, Shamir told Peres: “Nothing makes you more angry than a Jewish settlement. You are conducting a White Paper policy.” In an effort to calm tempers and charges and countercharges on both sides, Peres and Shamir met last Friday at the Premier’s private residence. Peres told Shamir in no uncertain terms, that the Likud ministers could not label the present government “a White Paper government,” or accuse it of lying, and at the same time continue to be members of the government.

Peres stated that Likud and Labor agreed to form a national unity government based on mutual consent and respect. If Likud has decided that it is time to dismantle the government, it should be done on the same basis and not on the basis of character assassination and distortion of policies, Peres said.

Shamir told Peres that he was not interested in dismantling the coalition and that he, too, believed that all possible steps should be taken to stop ministers from insulting each other.

The meeting on Friday, contrary to previous meetings between Peres and Shamir, was described as matter of fact and strictly business-like, with no smiles wasted. Political commentators said following the meeting that its value was that it prevented an immediate collapse of the national unity government.

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