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Labor Party Leaders Vote 41-2 to Quit Government Coalition

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The Labor Party leadership seems determined to end its coalition partnership with Likud, which it accuses of wrecking the peace process on which the government had embarked.

The party’s Executive voted 41-2 Monday for a resolution recommending that Labor leave the unity government it formed with Likud in December 1988.

The resolution will be submitted for approval to Labor’s Central Committee, which is expected to convene in about three weeks.

The resolution charges that Likud “profoundly damaged the peace initiative” by burdening it with restrictions and preconditions at the Likud Central Committee meeting in Tel Aviv on July 5.

It specifically blames Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, for agreeing to attach four guiding principles to his peace plan likely to make it unacceptable to the Palestinians.

The principles were demanded by three hard-line Likud ministers, Ariel Sharon, David Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i, who made no secret of their desire to kill the plan altogether.

Labor’s resolution was introduced by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the party’s chairman, with the support of Labor’s No. 2 man, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin reportedly had been leaning against leaving the government. But his speech to the Executive on Monday left little room for the party to adopt any other course.

U.S. INTERVENTION REPORTED

Yet, as observers noted, three weeks is a long time in Israeli politics. There are both external and internal factors that could prevent or delay a breakup of the uneasy Labor-Likud alliance.

The United States, which had endorsed the peace plan before it was amended, intervened dramatically Sunday night.

The Bush administration informed Jerusalem that a high-level State Department delegation will visit Israel next week. Its sole purpose will be to examine the viability of the peace initiative in light of the new Likud conditions. (See separate story.)

The Americans apparently made it known to both Israeli political parties that they would feel offended if the unity government collapsed before the State Department team arrived in Jerusalem.

There also reportedly has been intense pressure on Labor’s leadership from American Jewish leaders, who cautioned the party not to make a hasty exit from the government.

Finally, there is the current political climate in Israel, which does not seem to favor Labor’s chances at the polls if the government collapses and new elections are called.

Nevertheless, both Peres and Rabin, in speeches to the party Executive and Labor Knesset faction Monday, insisted that the basis for a continued partnership with Likud has been smashed and the only course for Labor is to end it.

Shamir warned Labor on Sunday that to end the present government would kill all hope for progress in the peace initiative. He also maintained that in new elections, Likud would fare much better than Labor.

WON’T SERVE AS ‘FIG LEAF’ FOR LIKUD

But Peres disputed that prognosis. He declared that Labor could not agree to “serve as a fig leaf for Likud’s double talk” about the peace process.

“We will not be the chazzan (cantor) singing El Moleh Rachamim (a prayer for the dead) over the grave of the peace process,” Peres said.

He presented the leadership bureau with the text of a letter he intended to send Shamir, in which he accused the prime minister of preferring “internal peace within your party to peace” between Israel and the Arabs.

Rabin, who was co-author with Shamir of the original peace initiative, said Labor now must come up with fair and realistic peace proposals of its own.

Rabin said that the Central Committee should state unequivocally that Labor is ready to:

negotiate with local Palestinians, without preconditions, on how to conduct the election of Palestinian representatives for peace talks with Israel;

accept from Egypt a proposed list of local Palestinians with whom Israel could begin preliminary talks immediately;

implement the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force to specified security locations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during a five-year interim period of self rule in the territories;

include Palestinians from outside the territories in negotiations for a permanent settlement.

Labor also subscribes to the principle of trading territory for peace, Rabin said. And Peres said the party should be willing to have observers from friendly countries monitor the Palestinian elections.

These positions differ sharply with the personal views of Shamir and the stance adopted by the Likud Central Committee last week.

The party voted to prevent Palestinian elections from taking place until the uprising comes to a complete half and to bar Arab residents of East Jerusalem, not to mention Palestinians from outside the territories, from participating in the elections.

‘WE’VE GOT OUR OWN CONDITIONS, TOO’

Shamir has long opposed further territorial compromise and appears unwilling to consider the possibility of outside observers.

Rabin said that demanding an end to the intifada before peace talks can take place in effect “castrates the whole initiative.”

The defense minister said that Likud and Labor had managed to put together a credible first-phase peace initiative precisely by consigning deeply disputed issues to a second phase, which need not be settled immediately.

But Likud changed all of that last week by placing new, unequivocal conditions on the character of a final settlement, he said.

“Let us tell the public that Likud is not the only one with conditions. We’ve got our own conditions, too,” Rabin declared to the obvious appreciation of his audience.

As a result of its Executive’s decision Monday, Labor’s Knesset faction decided to absent itself en bloc from the chamber later Monday, during a vote on six opposition motions of no-confidence in the government.

The Likud and small coalition parties were able to defeat the motions, which stemmed from the Likud Central Committee actions.

U.S. JEWS CONTACT ISRAELI LEADERS

Labor could not very well vote against the government of which it is part. But “we can hardly vote in favor of the government when the issue is the resolutions over which we have decided to leave the government,” explained Haim Ramon, chairman of Labor’s Knesset faction.

During floor debate on the motions, Likud’s Ronni Milo, speaking for the government as minister of environmental protection, pleaded with Labor not to leave the unity government.

He warned that the public does not want new Israeli elections now, and that they would harm the economy.

American Jewish leaders also appeared to hope that new elections would be averted.

In New York, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said he had been in touch with “Israeli leadership” and reminded them of the importance of presenting a unified approach to Washington.

“We were careful not to involve ourselves in Israeli party politics,” said Seymour Reich, “but we reminded them that the last time there was great turmoil in Israeli political atmospherics, as a result of the November elections, the U.S. began its dialogue” with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In order to maintain unity, said Reich, “the prime minister has to achieve some formulation to assure Labor that the peace initiative intact.”

(JTA staff writer Andrew Silow Carroll in New York contributed to this report.)

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