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Acrimony, Instead of Joy, Marks New Year at Herut Headquarters

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What should have been joyful toasts to a sweet New Year turned into acrimonious words on Thursday at Herut Party headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir crossed verbal swords with Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, in a bitter follow-up to a tough speech Shamir delivered Wednesday night at a Likud rally.

At the rally, Shamir spoke in defense of his political ally, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who he said was “on an important national mission” promoting the Israeli peace initiative.

But on Thursday, the differences within the ranks erupted into a cacophonous shouting match, after Shamir took the opportunity of the traditional annual toast to call for unity within the party and warned unnamed hard-liners to avoid debilitating splits that have weakened the party.

Shamir’s remarks were interpreted as directed at Levy, Industry and Trade Minister Ariel Sharon and Economics and Planning Minister Yitzhak Moda’i, all of whom this week renewed their combined attacks on Shamir and Arens over the peace process.

Sharon blamed Arens’ Foreign Ministry under for bringing about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s active intervention in the peace moves, an intervention welcomed by the Labor Party and the Bush administration but scorned by Likud.

WEIZMAN BACKS RABIN

The premier protested, “There is no inexorable, fated division in our ranks.”

Levy took the rostrum to strongly challenge that belief, saying he “could not remain silent” and “did not expect” the prime minister to upbraid his party colleagues at what was supposed to be a festive event.

Levy waxed eloquent defending himself and his colleagues. His pronouncements then provoked Ronni Milo, environmental protection minister and a Shamir devotee, to chide him, ending with each calling the other names.

In other political news, Science and Development Minister Ezer Weizman, a dovish Labor Party minister, declared Wednesday that Yitzhak Rabin, the defense minister, would be the best man to lead Labor and Israel to peace.

Weizman said he felt the more centrist Rabin was the preferred leader for Labor, especially after his talks with Mubarak in Cairo last week.

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