TEL AVIV (Apr. 5)
Labor-Likud relations took a sour turn Sunday as Foreign Minister Shimon Peres left on an official visit to Spain to seek support for an international peace conference with the publicly proclaimed ill wishes of Premier Yitzhak Shamir.
Shamir stated flatly before and during the Israel Bond Organization Leadership Conference in Jerusalem Saturday night that he hoped Peres “would not succeed.” Peres’ aides called his remark that of a political hack. It was “party, not state politics and we will not react,” spokesman for the Foreign Minister said.
The sharply divergent views of Shamir and Peres over an international conference for Middle East peace have long been in the open. Peres has vigorously pursued that goal while Shamir has vowed repeatedly that such a forum is unacceptable.
CANNOT RECALL A PRECEDENT
But observers here could recall no precedent when a Prime Minister, speaking into radio microphones and to the press, stated his hope that a Foreign Minister’s endeavors during a trip of great diplomatic sensitivity would fail. Peres is the first senior Israeli Minister to visit Spain since the two countries established diplomatic relations little more than a year ago.
Before leaving for Madrid, he told reporters he would ask the Spanish Premier, Felipe Gonzalez, to use his influence in the Arab world to promote an international conference. “Politically, we will certainly discuss the process of peace, how to continue it, how to develop it, how to enlarge it, and what role Spain can play in it,” Peres said.
Only a few hours earlier, Shamir was telling the Israel Bond leaders that “Anyone aiming for true peace and for real progress toward this goal should make it abundantly clear that such a (international) peace conference will take us further away from peace and hurt the chances of achieving it.”
REPERCUSSIONS AT THE CABINET MEETING
The incident had repercussions at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting where Minister-Without-Portfolio Ezer Weizman, standing in for Peres while he is abroad, demanded a debate there and then on the subject. Shamir refused.
Weizman observed that this was the first time in Israel’s history that a Prime Minister hoped for the failure of a Foreign Minister on a mission abroad. He accused Shamir of undermining the government’s image at home and overseas.
Shamir responded that he did not oppose Peres’ visit to Europe but only his endeavors for an international conference. He said he wished Peres well on everything else.
Peres said before his departure that in addition to the Middle East peace process, Israel and Spain “still have to settle some differences concerning the Common Market” of which Spain as a member competes with Israel’s exports to the European Economic Community (EEC), mainly citrus and citrus products.
“Culturally, I think the cultural ties (between Israel and Spain) have developed quite impressively,” Peres said. He said he planned to visit Toledo “which used to be a center of Jewish life, so there will be an historic flavor to this visit.”
After visiting Spain, Peres will go to Rome for a meeting of the Socialist International where the Middle East peace process will also be discussed. As head of Israel’s Labor Party, Peres is a member of the Socialist International.
MUBARAK ENTERS THE FRAY
Peres’ latest feud with Shamir drew the attention of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He told a Kuwaiti newspaper interviewer in Cairo Saturday that what Peres had to say carries more weight than Shamir’s remarks.
“Listen to what he (Peres) says and don’t attach any importance to Shamir’s declarations,” Mubarak said. He also observed that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization would have to negotiate directly to settle their differences.
The newspaper Al-Rai Al-Am quoted Mubarak as saying, “Direct negotiations, whether one likes it or not, are inevitable at some stage. Carrier pigeons–intermediaries–will not suffice.”