JERUSALEM (Mar. 16)
An embattled Yitzhak Shamir is trying urgently to glue Herut together again after its disastrous 15th convention ended in deadlock and pandemonium last Thursday.
The Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, denied an endorsement of his leadership and literally hounded out of the convention hall, urged his rivals to join with him in talks aimed at healing their rift. He also called on his supporters Sunday to end the bitter war of words that has been reverberating between the various Herut factions since the convention collapsed.
“Whoever comes to such a consultation will be welcome,” Shamir said in an interview. “We will work with all those who want to cooperate in the effort to heal the rift in our party,” he said. His clear implication was that if his principal rival, Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, refused to attend a peace-making meeting, blame for Herut’s disarray should rest squarely on him in the eyes of the party’s rank-and-file.
But Levy, whose forces, largely young Sephardic Jews from urban areas and development towns, outmaneuvered and out shouted Shamir’s contingent at the convention, seemed little inclined to bury the hatchet. The Levy camp demanded Sunday that the aborted convention resume and that Shamir step down from a leadership he apparently does not command.
They argue that neither Shamir nor any other party office holder can remain in office without the endorsement of the convention which is precisely the body that must elect them to office.
Just before Shamir called for a cease-fire, one of his top aides demanded that Levy resign from Herut or be drummed out the party. Deputy Defense Minister Michael Dekel contended that if Levy cannot accept Shamir’s authority within the unity coalition government, there is no place for him in Herut.
SHARON’S ROLE SEEN AS PIVOTAL
Political observers believe that in the present climate of extreme tension the role of Ariel Sharon, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Herut’s most outspoken hardliner, will be pivotal. Sharon combined his forces with those of Levy at the convention to deny Shamir the endorsement he sought.
But their alliance was as temporary as it was expedient. Shortly after the convention disintegrated, Sharon began to distance himself from Levy and defined himself as the leader of the “third camp” in Herut. He implied that he could mediate between Shamir and Levy but political observers said the dust would have to settle before any peacemaking mission could be undertaken.
A new element entered the drama over the weekend when Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai, a Likud Liberal, proposed that the convention be reconvened as the convention of a combined Herut-Liberal party. The two Likud partners have been negotiating a merger for some time and it appeared certain to take place within weeks after the Herut convention–had the convention resulted in a united Herut.
Modai’s suggestion got a lukewarm reception in Herut circles. Yoram Aridor, chairman of the Herut Secretariate and himself a former Finance Minister, said he could not understand Modai’s eagerness to merge the Liberals with a fragmented Herut. But some observers believe he understands Modai’s motives only too well.
They suggest that the Liberal Party leader sees a rended, weakened Herut as a vehicle to propel himself to leadership of Likud and possibly a candidate for the office of Prime Minister. The Liberal Party, weakened by its own defections, was always the junior partner in Likud and far less ideological than the rightwing Herut. In negotiations before the ill-fated convention, the Liberals were ready to settle for one-third representation in the proposed united party.