JERUSALEM (Feb. 6)
The Likud Central Committee will meet next Monday for its trial of strength between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his hard-line opponents led by Minister of Industry and Trade Ariel Sharon.
This was agreed Tuesday between the two chief protagonists at a private meeting in the Prime Minister’s office; but it was the only agreement they reached.
On the substance of the policy differences between them, the two men and their followers remained firmly entrenched and as resolute as before to face off against each other.
The new date for the meeting of the 3,000-member body follows a postponement caused by the terrorist attack in Egypt on Sunday night against a busload of Israeli tourists. The Central Committee was to have met Wednesday.
Observers here assume that a projected meeting between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and the Foreign Ministers of Israel and Egypt would now also be postponed. It had been tentatively set for this coming Sunday in Geneva.
Political logic dictates that the crucial decision be taken by the Likud before Israeli Minister Moshe Arens resumes the negotiating process with his two counterparts.
Hard-line leader Ariel Sharon curtly dismissed a report in Ha’aretz on Tuesday that said Shamir had quietly asked Baker to defer his presentation to Israel of a final draft regarding the American position on Israel-Palestinian talks and Palestinian elections in the territories.
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The reports said Shamir knew that the U.S. statement would not satisfy all of Israel’s requirements. For instance, it is expected to reaffirm Washington’s support for the participation of East Jerusalemites and one-time deportees in the Palestinian delegation to the projected dialogue.
For that reason, Ha’aretz wrote, Shamir wanted to defer of the American move until after the Central Committee had given him a ringing vote of confidence.
Sharon insisted that such linkage was petty and irrelevant. What was important, he said, was that the Likud Central Committee tell the Americans and the world “the position of the leading political force in Israel” on these issues.
The dissident bloc led by Sharon, Deputy Premier David Levy and Minister of Economics and Planning Yitzhak Modai was embarrassed, however, by media reports Tuesday of an unofficial poll commissioned on their behalf among Central Committee members. It showed more than 30 percent support the inclusion of deportees and East Jerusalemites among the negotiators.
Sharon said he neither knew who had commissioned the poll nor had he seen the results, and could not imagine that Likud activists would support a position that inherently compromised Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.
Some pundits in Jerusalem attributed the various news reports cited above to Labor party sources close to party chairman Shimon Peres.
Their reasoning is that anything tending to strengthen the Likud hard-liners would naturally increase the chances of the downfall of the unity government and the subsequent creation of a narrow-based government under Peres.