JERUSALEM (Feb. 1)
A political struggle between rival factions of the Likud bloc appears to have temporarily arrested further progress in the Middle East peace process.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Minister of Industry and Trade Ariel Sharon are engaged in a fierce battle to control the agenda of next Wednesday’s Likud Central Committee meeting, which has turned into a major referendum on Shamir’s peace policies.
Shamir expects the 2,000-plus members of the committee to endorse his peace initiative. Sharon, who chairs the committee, hopes to dismember it.
Until the outcome is known, the peace plan unveiled by Shamir last spring and nursed along since then by the United States remains stalled.
The next phase of the process is a meeting U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is to have with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and his Egyptian counterpart, Esmat Abdel Meguid. Its purpose is to work out the terms of a Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo.
The meeting of ministers was supposed to have taken place in January, but it has been repeatedly delayed, apparently because of outstanding differences between Israel and Egypt over a number of points. According to reports from Washington, many of those differences have now been resolved.
There was speculation this week that Baker might try to meet with the Israeli and Egyptian ministers while in Eastern Europe on Feb. 10 or 11, immediately after his meetings in Moscow with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
Arens will be in Prague on Feb. 9, and coincidentally, Baker is considering a stop in Czechoslovakia.
But Baker reportedly has now decided to put the meeting on hold until after Likud decides its direction.
The Shamir-Sharon power struggle became more divisive Thursday, when the prime minister threatened to oust Sharon from the government after the pivotal meeting. Sharon replied that he would not be intimidated.
Shamir was furious because Sharon is circulating an agenda among Central Committee members calling for a series of votes on Shamir’s foreign and domestic policies.
Shamir demands that the party rank and file vote only once, in a show of support for the major policy speech he intends to deliver to the Central Committee.