JERUSALEM (Oct. 23)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir acknowledged Monday that Israel has “differences” with the United States over peace policy.
But the differences are “neither deep nor sharp” and can be overcome, Shamir told reporters after briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the situation.
Shamir conceded he had spoken to the Knesset members of “tension” in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, though he preferred to call it “an impression of tension” heightened by the intensive media coverage of U.S.-Israeli diplomacy.
“I don’t feel it in my telephone conversations with the president,” Shamir added.
His last publicly acknowledged telephone talk with President Bush was on Oct. 17. Shamir made the call shortly after he scathingly criticized American mediation efforts, in a talk to members of the Likud Knesset faction.
Shamir made clear to the Knesset panel Monday that he has no intention of postponing his scheduled visit to the United States next month in order to avoid possible U.S. pressure for concessions by Israel.
But in New York, there was speculation among Jewish leaders that Shamir might cancel the trip, if his differences with the Bush administration could not be resolved. (See separate story.)
Shamir’s trip is officially to attend the annual General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Cincinnati. But he has an appointment to meet with President Bush at the White House on Nov. 15, and he is also scheduled to meet with Secretary of State James Baker.
Knesset sources said the prime minister sought to imbue his briefing with an atmosphere of conciliation and calm.
LABORITES COULD VOTE AGAINST GOVERNMENT
Shamir did not rise to the bait of polemics when Knesset member Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement called him one of the last anachronistic icebergs in a climate of thaw.
The political community, nevertheless, is convinced that a coalition crisis is inevitable, given the sharp differences between Labor and Likud over negotiations with the Palestinians.
But observers are equally convinced that the storm will not break until Shamir returns from Washington.
Labor could have an opportunity to rock the coalition Tuesday, when the Knesset takes up three no-confidence motions from left-leaning factions.
The party gave its Knesset members freedom to vote their conscience on the measures, and there are some who would like the Labor faction to demonstratively fail to support the government. But that would only increase bitterness between the coalition partners.
In any event, the government is in no immediate danger. Some Laborites plan to absent themselves from the voting and others intend to support the government.
There will be no defections on the Likud side, and the motions are expected to be defeated with ease.
A similar wait-and-see atmosphere prevails in the Agudat Yisrael party, whose Executive resolved at a meeting Sunday night to make no specific recommendations to the party’s governing Council of Sages whether to continue to participate in the coalition.
Agudah, like Labor, wants to see what emerges from Shamir’s visit to Washington before deciding on the coalition’s future.