JERUSALEM (Jul. 19)
A hostile exchange between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, the minister of industry and trade, offered further evidence Wednesday of a rapid deterioration of amity and civility at the highest echelons of the Likud, Israel’s largest political party.
News of the bitter words dismayed those members of the Labor Party, Likud’s coalition partners, who are trying to save the unity government and Shamir’s peace initiative.
Labor has threatened to end its seven-month-old alliance with Likud, unless Shamir overrides the harsh constraints and preconditions imposed on his peace plan by the Likud Central Committee on July 5.
They represented a victory for Sharon and his hard-line allies, Minister of Construction and Housing David Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i, leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, who is minister of economics and planning.
Sharon, the least inhibited of Shamir’s rivals, spoke rudely to the prime minister at a conclave of Likud ministers Wednesday.
“I have contempt for your words. I laugh at your words,” he told the 73-year-old Likud leader.
A livid Shamir replied, “We’ll see who laughs last.” Sharon, who made world headlines Monday by publicly calling for the assassination of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, just continued to laugh.
Shamir, nevertheless, bowed again to pressure from the diehard ministers led by Sharon.
He agreed not to submit any compromise proposals at next Sunday’s Cabinet meeting with respect to the peace initiative and promised to discuss any proposals brought by Labor with the full complement of Likud ministers.
Shamir has been accused by Sharon, Levy and Moda’i of ignoring their views in favor of ministers who agree with the premier, such as Moshe Nissim, Dan Meridor and Ehud Olmert.
They also charged that he colluded with Labor in an attempt to have the Cabinet vote last Sunday on a statement that would have negated the Central Committee’s new conditios.
Labor ministers convened Wednesday, their zeal for a break with Likud apparently diminished by a realistic appraisal of their party’s current standing with the electorate.
Most Laborites hope Likud will come up with a face-saving formula. But that seems unlikely in view of the pressures on Shamir.