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Amid Insults, Knesset Begins Debate on International Peace Forum

The Knesset opened debate Wednesday on an international conference for Middle East peace. The session, marked by an angry exchange between Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Likud MK Ronnie Milo, a close aide to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, underlined the growing rancor between Labor and Likud over the issue.

The possibility of a coalition crisis was heightened when Shamir warned Wednesday evening that if “other parties” persisted in advocating an international conference, it could lead to the downfall of the Labor-Likud unity government. Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office quoted Shamir as saying such a forum was “the stupidest idea” ever promoted in Israeli foreign policy.

Peres, who returned from meetings with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in Cairo last week with an agreement by both countries to advance an international conference, appeared in the Knesset to address two opposition motions on the subject. One, by the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM), supported a conference while the other, by the Tehiya Party, was opposed.

Peres warned that to reject the international conference option would be to kill chances of progress toward peace. He recalled he has said this at many public forums when he was Premier and that his position was accepted by the government and Knesset.

He accused Shamir of being disingenuous by pretending now that this is a departure from government policy.

PERES SAID HE WAS FIRM

Peres told the Knesset “I have no intention of withdrawing from the idea of an international peace conference.” MK Yossi Sarid of the CRM urged Peres to “take a few more steps” in the direction of peace. Tehiya MK Geula Cohen said Peres should “face reality,” which does not allow for peace.

The session was adjourned for an hour to allow tempers to cool after Peres and Milo exchanged insults. “What have you ever done for the country?” Peres asked the Likud MK, who is a Deputy Prime Minister.

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