JERUSALEM (May. 21)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, faced with a possible grassroots revolt in the Likud bloc, threatened Sunday to resign if his party rejects his plan for Palestinian elections followed by self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“I cannot continue in office if I do not feel I have the support of the movement I represent in the government,” Shamir told Israel Radio.
He spoke shortly before embarking on a six-day visit to Britain and Spain, where he is expected to solicit international support for the new Israeli peace initiative.
The plan, drafted by Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party, was approved in the Cabinet on May 14 by an over-whelming 20-6 majority.
But three of Likud’s most powerful ministers are opposed: Ariel Sharon and David Levy, of Shamir’s own Herut faction, and Yitzhak Moda’i, leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing.
Although the Knesset endorsed the government plan by a 43-15 vote margin last Wednesday, the 120-member chamber was nearly half empty.
Likud Knesset members opposed to it absented themselves, rather than vote against the government.
Sharon, who serves as minister of industry and trade, will convene the Herut Central Committee, which he also chairs, next month, precisely to obtain grass-roots opposition to the peace plan.
Shamir will face a showdown shortly after he returns from abroad.
SEES PLAN AS ‘A DANGER’
Before leaving on his trip he tried, without success, to convert Levy, who holds the rank of deputy premier and serves as housing minister.
Levy emerged from a lengthy lunchtime meeting with Shamir on Sunday saying he had not changed his position. “I’m against the plan,” he said. “I see it as a danger.”
He said his talk with Shamir was “frank and candid” and that they had agreed to meet again privately after Shamir returns from abroad.
Aides to Shamir tried to put the best possible face on the meeting.
According to them, Levy promised not to “undermine” the prime minister while he is away and indicated that his present position was not necessarily his last word.
Political observers believe Shamir would find it very hard to beat the combined forces of Sharon, Levy and Moda’i in the Central Committee.
Nevertheless, some of Levy’s own supporters in the Likud Knesset faction — Eliahu Ben-Elissar and Reuven Rivlin — voted for the plan in the Knesset last Wednesday, while many of their colleagues left the chamber.
Levy himself was abroad at the time.
He said Sunday that many rank-and-file Herut members outside of his “camp” have contacted him to say they agree with his criticism of Shamir’s plan.