TEL AVIV (Mar. 9)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir used the prerogatives of his office Wednesday to block a vote by the Inner Cabinet on the counterproposals to the American peace plan he intends to take to Washington next week.
Demands for a vote came from both Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, and Housing Minister David Levy of Shamir’s own Herut faction of the Likud bloc. But Shamir rejected them.
Under the rules governing secret meetings of the Inner Cabinet, which consists of five Labor and five Likud senior ministers, Shamir and Peres, who is vice premier, may propose agenda items. But only the prime minister can decide whether they will be voted on.
Shamir said the discussion would continue at the regular weekly meeting of the full Cabinet on Sunday, before he departs for the United States that evening. But a vote on the entire American peace package, which Secretary of State George Shultz presented to Shamir and Peres on March 4, will have to await his return, the prime minister said.
The Inner Cabinet met for only 30 minutes Wednesday and most of its discussion was devoted to the terrorist hijacking of a bus in the Negev on Monday, in which three Israeli civilians were killed and 10 wounded.
Political issues also were raised during the meeting. Peres argued that without a vote on the peace plan, Shamir will be speaking in Washington on behalf of the Likud party, not the government.
Levy made the same point, but while Peres is prepared to accept the Shultz peace package, Likud wants the government to reject it. Levy said a decision must be reached before Shamir leaves for Washington.
“We can’t fool ourselves with the idea that the (Shultz) plan doesn’t exist and that we can succeed in changing its principles significantly in Washington,” Levy said.
‘PANIC-STRICKEN’ BY PEACE
Peres, speaking in the Knesset later in the day, warned that by rejecting Shultz’s proposals, “we may lose this historic opportunity. Neither we nor the next generations will be able to answer why we were panic-stricken by the idea of peace, why we rejected the hand outstretched to us.”
It is clear that had a vote been taken Wednesday, the outcome would have been another Labor-Likud deadlock. Shamir apparently prefers to go to Washington without his government on record either way, rather than confront the Americans as the head of a divided government.
The ideas he plans to present to Reagan administration officials are not known outside Cabinet circles. So far, Shamir has publicly stated his opposition to both an international conference and an accelerated timetable for Arab-Israeli negotiations, components of the Shultz package that the secretary of state says are inseparable.
Shamir also rejects the idea of trading territory for peace, which is implicit in the Shultz plan. Peres and the Labor Party are ready to consider territorial compromise.
Should the deadlock continue after Shamir’s return from the United States, the leadership of both major parties is expected to seriously consider early elections to obtain a fresh mandate from the voters.
Because of the heavy volume of news, today’s JTA daily News Bulletin has been expanded to six pages.