JERUSALEM (Dec. 11)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is looking forward to a showdown with opponents of his peace initiative when the Likud Central Committee convenes, probably within the next three weeks.
He expects the meeting to clear the air and affirm his support by the party rank and file.
The timing of the Central Committee meeting depends on the date set for Foreign Minister Moshe Arens’ meeting in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid of Egypt.
That meeting is expected to take place in early January.
Three Likud ministers opposed to Shamir’s plan have demanded that the Central Committee convene before Arens’ departure for the trilateral parley.
The Washington meeting is intended to lay the groundwork for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo early next year.
It became definite after the State Department’s announcement last week that Egypt had accepted Baker’s five-point proposal for the dialogue, which Israel had accepted on Nov. 5.
The dialogue is supposed to lead to Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, proposed by Shamir and approved by the Cabinet last May. Those elected would negotiate with Israel on Palestinian autonomy in the territories.
Ministers Ariel Sharon, David Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i regard the idea as potentially disastrous for Israel.
They failed to block the initiative at a meeting of the Central Committee last spring, but managed to attach conditions to the elections that, if adhered to, would effectively kill the plan.
But Shamir is more confident now of his ability to turn back his opponents. He wields the double power of prime minister and party leader, and his closest ally, Arens, controls the party apparatus.
Nevertheless, both camps will be lobbying vigorously in the various Likud branches all over the country during the next three weeks.