Aftermath of a Knesset Debate: Likud is Bitter, Labor Elated over Victory for Peres’ Peace Initiativ

There was an atmosphere of bitterness and recrimination within the Likud bloc today following the dramatic events in the Knesset yesterday where Premier Shimon Peres declared that “I stand behind every word I said at the United Nations and I ask that the Knesset approve my remarks” pertaining to his peace overture to Jordan.

The Knesset, after a six-hour debate, voted 68-10 with 10 abstentions against a motion of non-confidence in the government which had been submitted by the five-member rightwing opposition Tehiya Party. Only one coalition MK, David Magen (Likud-Herut), broke ranks and voted with Tehiya. All other Likud MKs and Ministers voted confidence in the government — despite Likud’s undisguised displeasure and suspicion over Peres’ peace diplomacy.

Peres, in his Knesset speech, expressed anger over the fact that Likud Ministers had attacked his peace initiative, which he unveiled at the UN last week while he was still in the United States meeting with American and West European leaders who were responding favorably to his initiative.

REFUSED TO ALTER HIS PLAN

He also categorically refused to enunciate “clarifications” which Likud hardliners had demanded — in effect, a toning-down of the peace proposals he had presented at the UN — and instead repeated the operative sections of his plan which called for an end to the state of war between Jordan and Israel, direct Israeli-Jordanian peace negotiations, intermediate agreements, demarcation of boundaries, and the Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the Camp David accords to serve as the basis for peace talks.

The only clarifications Peres offered, in response to Likud concerns, were a reemphasis of his opposition to the PLO as a partner in the peace talks, and an emphasis that no international forum could replace direct negotiations or impose a peace settlement. Peres said these two points had been agreed on between Israel and the United States.

Peres also said that Israel’s position at the start of negotiations would be the autonomy package outlined in the Camp David accords dealing with the Palestinians on the West Bank.

The Premier called on King Hussein of Jordan — who had praised Peres’ initiative as “the beginning of movement in the right direction” — to “continue working together not to miss the opportunity that has been created” and called on the Palestinians “not to be led astray by the glitter of terrorism, and to seize the chance for a fair and realistic solution.”

Peres scornfully denounced Likud MKs who assailed his peace plan. MK Geula Cohen, leader of the Tehiya Party, warned the Knesset not to be “tempted even by an entrance to negotiations, because it could be an entrance without an exit. Don’t give Peres the vote of confidence he needs to tell the world the whole nation is behind him.”

In a closing speech from the podium in the evening, Peres shouted at Deputy Premier David Levy (Herut), who had been extremely critical of the Premier, “You are not my interrogator. Sit down quietly and listen….”

This morning, rank-and-file Likud members were unhappy with the way their leaders had handled the situaion. Both the hardliners, Levy and Minister of Industry and Trade Ariel Sharon, and the less vociferous Deputy Premier and Likud chairman Yitzhak Shamir, came under attack from within the party.

Within Labor today, the mood was one of satisfaction, even jubilation, over the political victory in the Knesset, though some members were plainly disappointed that the unity government remains intact. Peres himself noted that the vote yesterday meant a parliamentary endorsement for his peace policy.

During a recess period after Peres delivered his opening speech, Likud Ministers caucused and decided to send Shamir to Peres with a demand for “clarifications” of his peace plan. What followed is obscure. According to Likud faction chairperson Sarah Doron (Liberal Party), the two men “agreed” that there would be such further clarifications in the Premier’s closing remarks, though no such agreement was actually put down on paper. Peres’ aides sharply denied today that any such agreement was ever reached.

THREATENING AND BRINKMANSHIP

A great deal of threatening and brinkmanship took place in the subsequent hours, but Peres’ staff consistently claimed that he would not give way to Likud pressure.

In the event, Peres led off his second speech with the bald statement: “I want to be absolutely unequivocal. I do not retreat from a single word I said at the UN or at the Knesset earlier today. I have no intention of backing off on anything.”

When Levy shouted from the floor about “promised clarifications,” Peres blasted him and his Likud colleagues for having publicly attacked him (Peres) while he was still in the United States.

Calming down, the Premier warned that whoever on the coalition side sought to torpedo the rotation of Premiers would vote for the non-confidence motion. In this way, Peres deftly outflanked his Likud foes who claimed that he was forcing a crisis in order to obviate the agreed rotation of the Premiership between himself and Shamir next October.

Other Labor leaders made it clear that they could countenance one or two rank-and-file rebels. But if any Likud Minister failed to vote for the government — the government would come to an end.

The only Minister who failed to vote was Yosef Shapira of Morasha. He quietly left the chamber just before the voting began. The 10 abstentions came from Mapam and the Citizens Rights Party. The anti-government vote came from Tehiya itself and the leftwing opposition parties.

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