JERUSALEM (Jul. 5)
The expected showdown between Yitzhak Shamir and critics within his Likud bloc turned into a show of unity Wednesday evening, when the party Central Committee overwhelmingly adopted a toughly worded resolution on the prime minister’s peace initiative.
The resolution includes a set of “principles” that make the peace plan palatable to hard-liner Ariel Sharon and his allies, but may alienate Likud’s Labor Party coalition partners and the United States.
After weeks of rancorous wrangling that threatened to split the party, Shamir agreed at the last minute to incorporate the principles into the resolution, which the 2,600 Central Committee delegates adopted by a virtually unanimous show of hands at their meeting in Tel Aviv.
Those principles dramatically limit the circumstances under which Palestinian elections could be held in the administered territories and, in large measure, predetermine the outcome of any negotiations Israel could have with those elected.
Specifically, the principles:
Exclude Arab residents of East Jerusalem from participating in the proposed elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip;
Require total suppression of the nearly 19-month-old Palestinian uprising before the elections are held;
Rule out, under all circumstances, negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization;
Rule out the creation of a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean;
Call for the continuation, at an accelerated pace, of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
LABOR MAY LEAVE COALITION
The Labor Party’s reaction to the Central Committee move was swift and severe. The party’s Executive immediately scheduled a meeting Thursday to consider breaking the coalition agreement with Likud. (See separate story.)
The peace plan itself is a collaborative effort between Likud and Labor. It was drafted jointly by Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Labor.
The plan calls for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to choose delegates with whom Israel would negotiate a self-rule plan for the territories and, eventually, an agreement on their final status.
Sharon, who is minister of industry and trade, denounced the plan on grounds that it would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
His views were shared by two other powerful Likud figures, Deputy Premier David Levy, who is minister of construction and housing, and Yitzhak Moda’i, the economics and planning minister who is leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing.
These ministers had vowed to amend Shamir’s plan at the Central Committee meeting, acknowledging they could not defeat it, since it already had been approved by the Cabinet and Knesset.
Shamir had no quarrel with the substance of Sharon’s ideas. But he resolutely insisted, for strategic and tactical reasons, that they not be incorporated in writing.
POLITICAL SETBACK FOR SHAMIR?
He explained, in a television interview, that he wanted to maintain a certain degree of vagueness about his plan “out of consideration for our coalition partners.”
He emphasized that the plan was a joint Likud-Labor enterprise. He stressed, however, that everyone knows where Likud and he personally stand.
Prior to the Central Committee meeting, Shamir served notice that he wanted the delegates to vote either to back or reject the plan, as approved by the Cabinet and Knesset.
But in a fire-eating speech to the Central Committee Wednesday evening, Shamir spoke passionately in favor of every one of Sharon’s proposals.
Political observers discerned a personal setback for the prime minister’s leadership.
They said that while he will continue to head the party and the government, neither he nor his supporters can claim any longer that the Shamir camp can prevail against the forces of his rivals within Likud.
Shamir, in a television interview after the Central Committee adjourned, flatly dismissed the notion that he had “folded” before his party rivals. “I don’t know the meaning of the word,” he said.
“The Likud hasn’t changed,” he added. “That was how we always were. Nor has the (peace initiative) changed.”