TEL AVIV (Dec. 21)
A Likud-Labor coalition government was virtually assured Wednesday.
Likud’s Central Committee approved Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s agreement with the Labor Party by a comfortable, if not spectacular, 55 percent majority.
The actual vote, called in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, was 796-642, with most of the committee’s 1,500 members participating.
But the stormy all-night session at Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliahu sports stadium came close at times to an open revolt against Shamir’s leadership by the party’s hard-line ideologues.
The 73-year-old premier was repeatedly booed, shouted down and heckled. Grim-faced and gesticulating wildly as he sought to make himself heard, Shamir at one point exclaimed in disgust, “This is a circus.”
In contrast, the meeting of the Labor Party’s 1,150-member Central Committee Wednesday afternoon at the Shavit cinema in Givatayim was a relatively tame affair. The major disruption came from feminists, angry at the denial of Cabinet posts to women in the party leadership. (See separate story.)
Labor’s internal differences over an alliance with the Likud were settled at a Central Committee meeting two weeks ago, where the pro-coalition forces prevailed. Wednesday’s session was called to ratify the earlier decision.
It did so by a vote of 361-164, with less than half of the members casting ballots.
THREATS FROM SHAMIR
Shamir had a tougher time than his Labor counterparts. He prevailed by a combination of persuasion and threat, arguing that the international situation calls for “as broad a government as possible.”
He was referring clearly to the American decision to hold a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which came as a shock to Israel.
Shamir insisted that Likud could find common ground with Labor in opposition to a Palestinian state, one of the few issues on which the two ideologically opposed parties agree.
The premier warned that if the coalition agreement was rejected, he would abandon his efforts to form a government. He also hinted broadly that he would resign from the Likud leadership.
Shamir’s mandate to establish a government expires Monday. He maintained at the all-night meeting that it is now impossible to form a narrow coalition with the ultra-Orthodox and extreme right-wing parties. His opponents shouted their disagreement.
Shamir was backed by Moshe Arens, one of his closest associates, who is slated to be foreign minister in the new government.
He also had the support of Housing Minister David Levy, whose power base is in the Sephardic community, and Benjamin Begin, a freshman member of the Knesset who is the son of former Premier Menachem Begin.
The opposition to the coalition pact was led by Herut hard-liner Aricl Sharon, who chaired the Central Committee session.
His hopes to recapture the defense portfolio he was forced to relinquish during the Lebanon war were dashed by Shamir’s agreement to let Laborite Yitzhak Rabin stay on as defense chief in the new government.
Sharon leveled his attacks mainly at Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, whom he accused of being soft on the PLO.
RELIGIOUS BLOC IN OPPOSITION
Nevertheless, he did his best to silence hecklers of Shamir, banging his gavel and demanding the prime minister’s right to be heard.
That did not prevent Sharon from hurling his own barbs at Shamir for agreeing to a coalition with Labor.
Sharon was supported by Yitzhak Moda’i, a former finance minister and political hard-liner from Likud’s Liberal Party wing.
Their opposition to a coalition with Labor was equaled by their anger over what they saw as Shamir’s betrayal of the religious parties. Sharon and Moda’i were the principal negotiators when Likud was courting the Orthodox bloc. They said they felt they had been “used.”
Sharon said he was “ashamed at having made promises to the religious parties, at Shamir’s express orders, only to find them disregarded and rescinded in order to gain Labor’s support for a broad coalition.”
Moda’i expressed frustration at “being sent by the prime minister to beg and humiliate myself before the religious parties,” only to discover the promises he made were worthless.
The religious parties, which for weeks had savored the role of king-makers, are furious over the turn of events. The Agudat Yisrael, Shas and Degel HaTorah parties announced they would not join the broad-based coalition.
The National Religious Party said it would seek further clarification from Shamir before deciding.
Degel HaTorah appealed, unsuccessfully, to the Jerusalem District Court to bar the two major parties from officially announcing their broad coalition Thursday. Degel wants to sue Shamir and Likud for breach of promise.
Meanwhile, the far right-wing Tehiya party, which said it would join the coalition if only to neutralize Labor’s influence, announced categorically Wednesday that it would go into the opposition.