JERUSALEM (Nov. 13)
Premier Shimon Peres formally informed the Cabinet today that he intends to dismiss Ariel Sharon as Minister of Commerce and Industry but stopped short of actually handing Sharon a letter of dismissal.
It was a day-long cliff-hanger during which Sharon offered an equivocal apology for his scathing denunciation of Peres and his policies at a Herut meeting in Haifa Monday night and Peres rejected the apology. The dismissal move was based on legal ground — violation of the basic law by which all Ministers assume collective responsibility for government policy decisions.
A dismissal takes effect in 48 hours. Observers said that within that time Sharon could revise his apology to make it acceptable to Peres and the latter could rescind his dismissal of the Likud Minister. Such a scenario, if it materializes, would probably save the fragile Labor-Likud coalition which neither partner seems prepared to dissolve at this time.
But it was far from certain Wednesday night that either Peres or Sharon would back down. Sharon offered his public apology before entering a meeting with Likud colleagues prior to the Cabinet session. “I find it proper to clarify that if words which I spoke were interpreted as a personal attack on the Prime Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, I hereby express my apology,” Sharon said.
He added: “However, I stand on my opinion regarding the substantial issues. These issues are what is really important for the security of the State and its survival. I want to clarify further that the existence of the national unity government is very important in my view — especially at this time when we face many national chal lenges. I hope, too, that all those who make a habit of attacking me will now follow my example.”
Sharon’s reference to the importance of the unity government was seen by some as an attempt to place the onus on Peres if the government should fall as a result of the crisis precipitated by his Haida speech. Likud sources said Peres’ response to Sharon’s apology would determine whether the Premier genuinely wants to resolve the crisis or whether his real aim is to bring down the unity government.
SHARON’S APOLOGIES SAID TO BE WORTHLESS
Aides to Peres implied that Sharon’s apologies are worthless. They recalled that he has apologized before for intemperate remarks. Last August I he said, “I apologize, I overdid it,” in connection with a speech against government policies. In a subsequent television interview, he said, “If anyone felt attacked by the style, I retract it and apologize.”
The aides pointed out that while Sharon apologizes for what is construed as personal attacks on his political adversaries he makes no their policies. “The results of these purported apologies are clear,” Peres’ aides said.
The latest one was “no apology at all but a rehearsal in form and substance of what he said.” They cited a Cabinet decision of last August 25 that any minister who attacks the Prime Minister must resign.
According to Israel Radio, Sharon was induced to apologize by the Minister of Interior, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, who has been trying urgently in the last two days to resolve the crisis. Peretz’s formula included an expression of confidence by Sharon in Peres but Sharon balked at this, Israel Radio said.
SHARON SAYS PERES IS CYNICAL
Sharon’s speech to his Herut Likud colleagues was a blast at the delicate negotiations Peres has been conducting aimed at direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. It also seemed calculated to further inflame the passions of militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank where clashes between Jews and Arabs have escalated in recent months.
Sharon, a former Defense Minister and the most vociferous hawk in the coalition government, accused Peres of “unparalleled cynicism” and “total contempt for proper governmental procedure. “He charged that Peres “is capable of conducting negotiations with the PLO, and even of much graver things too. His behavior is weak and lacking in self-respect …. (he) is leading the government by the nose down a twisted path without members of the Cabinet knowing what is going on.”
Under the coalition agreement, Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, waived the right of the Prime Minister to dismiss a Cabinet member of the other’s party. Shamir will become Prime Minister next summer under the rotation clause of the coalition agreement.
SHAMIR DECLINES TO DISMISS SHARON
Peres met with Shamir yesterday and today. He explained his decision to fire Sharon for falsely accusing the government of encouraging terrorist attacks and of willingness to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
He told Shamir that if Sharon could not accept the Cabinet’s obligation of collective responsibility he should have resigned. He said under the circumstances, Shamir, as leader of Sharon’s party, should have dismissed the Minister, but since Shamir has declined to do so, he, Peres, would.
Under the coalition agreement, Shamir has the right to veto the dismissal of a Likud minister. But the basic law of collective responsibility supersedes the coalition agreement, Peres said.
Leaders of both parties met separately late tonight to see if there was any way to resolve the crisis. Several Labor Ministers said they believed Sharon should be fired, even though Sharon told the Cabinet he had the same “confidence” in Peres as other ministers had. Shamir told the Cabinet that if Peres dismisses Sharon he should resign immediately himself.