Modai Resigns Just As He is About to Be Fired by Peres

Justice Minister Yitzhak Modai resigned from the government Monday shortly before he was about to be fired by Premier Shimon Peres for “disparaging public remarks” about the Premier.

Modai, a Likud Liberal, handed in his resignation at a Cabinet meeting Monday afternoon convened by Peres for the express purpose of dismissing him. Under the law, it takes effect in 48 hours.

By quitting voluntarily, Modai averted a coalition crisis inasmuch as the Labor-Likud agreement specifies that the Premier of one party may not fire a Minister of the other without the consent of that party’s leader.

Likud Ministers and Knesset members criticized Peres and hinted darkly that Labor was maneuvering to break up the unity coalition three months before the rotation of power agreement takes effect and Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir assumes the office of Prime Minister. Nevertheless, they were markedly cool in defense of Modai. Several Likud ministers agreed that his remarks were intemperate but argued that Laborite Ministers have said for worse things about Shamir.

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

Peres took umbrage at Modai’s statement in an interview Saturday night that Peres “knows as much about law as he does about economics,” which in the context clearly meant not very much. Modai added that there was “no love lost between me and the Prime Minister” and that he intended one day “to settle scores” between himself and Peres.

A half-hearted apology later was seen by Peres as adding “insult to injury,” sources close to the Prime Minister said.

The two men have long been at odds and their differences have been personalized. An attack on Peres by Modai earlier this year resulted in his dismissal as Finance Minister. To avoid bringing down the government, Likud Ministers arranged for Modai to swap portfolios with then Justice Minister Moshe Nissim. Modai has never reconciled himself to the loss of the much more powerful and prestigious Finance Ministry.

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