Labor Party is Sharply Divided About Whether to Quit Government

The Labor Party is sharply divided over whether to end its coalition with Likud over that party’s insistence on placing tough new conditions on the government’s peace plan.

A decision is expected Monday, when Labor’s Executive will convene to discuss the matter.

Although strong elements are clamoring for a break with Likud, party leader Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin seem hesitant at this stage.

The showdown was precipitated by the Likud Central Committee’s overwhelming adoption July 5 of a toughly worded resolution on Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s peace initiative. Inspired by hard-liners, the resolution imposes severe constraints on the substance of the initiative and its implementation.

Most observers believe that with Likud committed to those conditions, not even the most moderate Arabs would accept the plan.

The peace initiative, which Shamir and his allies promoted vigorously in the United States and Western Europe, is actually a joint venture with Labor.

It was co-authored by Rabin and omitted, by tacit agreement, certain details that might have split the two parties on ideological grounds.

But Shamir was forced to yield to Ariel Sharon, the hawkish minister of industry and trade, who denounced the plan as “the most dangerous ever conceived in Israel’s history.”

SHARON SAYS LIKUD NOT BEHIND PLAN

On the Labor side, Energy and Infrastructure Minister Moshe Shahal announced Sunday that he would introduce a motion at the Executive meeting calling for Labor’s immediate withdrawal from the government.

Shahal, who is in the second level of the party’s hierarchy, was spurred to action after Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. According to leaked reports, Sharon stated flatly that Likud was not united behind the peace plan, as Shamir claims.

Sharon said the party backed the conditions approved by the Central Committee, but not necessarily the plan itself, which, among other things, would allow Palestinians to elect representatives to negotiate with Israel.

If Sharon is correct, that is reason enough for Labor to wash its hands of Likud, Shahal maintained.

A bloc of younger, dovish members of Labor’s Knesset faction agree. But according to informed sources, Peres and Rabin do not.

Rabin met privateiy with Shamir early Sunday. The premier tried to convince him that nothing has seriously changed the government’s ability to pursue its peace initiative.

Informed sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Rabin conveyed the impression that while he himself favors caution, there is a powerful movement within his party pushing for a break.

The cautious approach seems to have the support of the kibbutz leadership, an important constituency of Labor.

Some observers say the kibbutzim are motivated by their precarious financial situation. As long as the government is preserved, Peres, as minister of finance, is in a position to help them.

ELECTORATE TENDING TOWARD EXTREMES

Labor and Likud agreed when they formed their unity coalition last December — the second since 1984 — that in the event either party withdrew, the other would agree to call new elections, rather than try to establish a narrow coalition with the small parties.

Nevertheless, each party is believed to be quietly examining its chances of forming a new government without the other.

But according to Labor insiders, Peres is unlikely to recommend a Labor pullout at a time when the electorate is seething with rage over the Arab-caused bus disaster last Thursday, which claimed 14 lives.

The current national mood, in fact, seems to favor extremist positions. Sharon is said to believe that his standing in Likud has risen since his victory at the Central Committee meeting last week. He is also said to be confident of Likud’s prospects if new elections are held.

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