JERUSALEM (Nov. 14)
Premier Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud, will meet Friday to work out a compromise to end the week-long coalition crisis precipitated by Ariel Sharon’s harsh public attack on Peres and his policies last Monday.
The crisis, with the potential to destroy the fragile Labor-Likud unity government, peaked Thursday when Peres flatly rejected an equivocal apology offered by Sharon and told a specially convened Cabinet meeting that he intended to dismiss the outspoken Likud hawk who serves as Minister of Commerce and Industry. But Peres refrained at the last minute from handing Sharon a formal letter of dismissal.
The mood here Thursday was one of relief and optimism as the cliff-hanger aspects of the situation faded. Political pundits believe the moment has passed for Peres to dismiss Sharon and it is now a matter of working out an acceptable formula to allow both men to retreat from the brink without losing face. Which one of them emerges the winner in the confrontation will probably be a subject of debate for weeks or months to come.
PERES CITES CONDITIONS TO END CRISIS
Peres, addressing the Labor Party Center in Tel Aviv Thursday, said two conditions had to be met to end the crisis. One is a coalition agreement recognizing the exclusive prerogative of the Prime Minister to dismiss a minister of any party. As the agreement now stands, both Peres and Shamir, who is scheduled to take over the office of Prime Minister next summer, waived the right to dismiss a minister of the other’s party.
The second condition demanded by Peres is a public retraction by Sharon of six specific charges he levelled against Peres in his speech last Monday to Herut colleagues in Haifa. These are: That Peres has been conducting secret negotiations with Jordan and the Palestinians for the past seven months without the Cabinet’s knowledge; that he has agreed to try to include Syria; and that he has agreed to an international conference.
That “the contempt and cynicism” of the Labor Party has cost much blood and its policies, if carried out, will bring even more bloodshed; that the government is being “led by the nose” without knowing where it is going; that Peres refused to say explicitly that the Palestine Liberation Organization will not be included in the negotiations and is trying to avoid such a commitment.
That the peace with Egypt is endangered because of the “weak policy” pursued by the government and the Prime Minister; that Sharon encountered “cynicism” when he demanded “that we should notify Jordan that there would be no negotiations until the PLO headquarters office is removed from Amman.”
Peres told the Labor Party meeting that when Sharon made that demand in the Inner Cabinet no one supported it and it was dropped. Sharon must acknowledge that, Peres said. He stressed that Israel has not had any negotiations with Syria on the Golan Heights or on any other issue.
Peres said he was patient, indicating there was no immediate deadline for Sharon to comply with his conditions. Sharon in fact was scheduled to leave for South America Thursday night on an Israel Bonds speaking tour.
Other key ministers are or will be going abroad. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin is in Washington. Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, a powerful figure in Likud, is due in the U.S. Sunday.
FORMULA SOUGHT TO END CRISIS
Efforts continued, meanwhile, to find a formula to end the crisis. Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz has been in the forefront, and he was joined Thursday by two prominent Laborites, Education Minister Yitzhak Navon and Energy Minister Moshe Shahal.
Nevertheless, both Labor and Likud seemed to be hedging their bets on a peaceful resolution. Each party is conducting quiet negotiations with the smaller factions in the Knesset to gain their support should the crisis flare anew and the Labor-Likud coalition seem in danger of breaking up.