JERUSALEM (Jul. 26)
The unity coalition formed four years ago by the Labor Party and Likud out of political convenience, rather than conviction, seems to be unraveling, little more than three months before Election Day.
Relations between the ideological and political foes reached an all-time low in the Knesset and several of its committees Tuesday, a day before the Israeli parliament adjourns for summer recess.
The most savage confrontation occurred in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, and Eliahu Ben-Elissar, the ranking Likud committee member, exchanged unprintable epithets that caused some hardened journalists to blush.
The most immediate and most divisive issue, however, is a bill providing that municipal elections and Knesset elections be held on separate days.
Labor supports the bill and has found temporary allies among the smaller parties, including the religious bloc. They believe their mayoral and town council candidates would fare better at the polls it the voters did not have to select them at the same time they vote for the new Knesset.
Likud apparently thinks they have a point and fiercely opposed the measure, in order to protect its substantial grip on local offices.
When the separate elections bill passed its first reading at a stormy session of the Knesset plenum Tuesday evening, Likud cried foul and filed a protest with the Supreme Court.
SWIFT RULING FROM HIGH COURT
It objected to what it said was the arbitrary replacement of its man, Micha Reiser, as chair of the House Committee with Laborite Rafi Edri.
Reiser had managed to keep the bill bottled up in committee. Edri sent it to the floor for action.
A three-justice panel of the high court, in a swiftly rendered decision, agreed with Likud that the maneuver was highly irregular. But it refrained from intervening in the activities of the legislature.
Likud’s moral victory did not deter Labor from putting the final touches to the bill and pressing for its passage before adjournment Wednesday.
In the Knesset Law Committee, a promising move toward electoral reform, supported by both Labor and Likud, came unstuck Tuesday, when the two parties disagreed over details.
Under the proposed measure, half of the 120 member Knesset would continue to be elected under Israel’s system of proportional representation, in which the voters choose party lists, not individual candidates.
The other half would be chosen directly by geographic constituencies. The two parties have clashed over the number and size of those constituencies, and it appears now that reform is a dead issue until the next Knesset, which will be chosen on Nov. 1.
On Monday, the Knesset majority voted for a controversial bill forbidding Knesset members from engaging in outside work, whether business, professional or as local elected officials.
Labor solidly supported the legislation. It was fought by Finance Minister Moshe Nissim of Likud’s Liberal wing and Knesset member Ehud Olmert of Likud’s Herut wing.
FIREWORKS OVER FOREIGN POLICY
The fireworks in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was touched off by recriminations over recent foreign policy developments.
Peres charged that Likud deliberately sabotaged U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz’s peace mission to the Middle East, thereby triggering the intifada, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The foreign minister claimed as evidence Shamir’s move to dispatch Herut Minister Moshe Arens to Washington last summer to persuade Shultz not to visit the region to promote the secretary’s plan with King Hussein of Jordan and other Arab leaders.
Ben-Elissar, in turn, accused Peres of lying to the Foreign Affairs Committee about Israel’s involvement in the Jonathan Pollard spy affair.
“Base calumny,” shouted Peres, vowing he would never let Ben-Elissar “libel me again.”
The supercharged atmosphere in the waning hours of this Knesset is not surprising. Each major party is warning the electorate that it will “never again” agree to a unity government. Each is urging voters to give it a governing majority.