JERUSALEM (Feb. 14)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will simply fire Ariel Sharon if he fails to formalize his resignation from, the Cabinet, aides to the prime minister indicated Wednesday.
They said there was no chance of a reconciliation between the two Likud ministers after Sharon’s harsh personal criticism of Shamir on Monday night, before 2,600 members of the Likud Central Committee.
Sharon, who is minister of industry and trade, used that occasion to announce his resignation in protest of Shamir’s policies, which he claims are too soft on the Palestinians.
But Attorney General Yosef Harish ruled Wednesday that the resignation is invalid, according to law, until Sharon submits it in writing to the prime minister at a Cabinet meeting.
The next Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Sunday. Sharon’s resignation would become effective 48 hours later, if he goes through with it.
Shamir, meanwhile, seems to be courting Deputy Premier David Levy, who has been allied with Sharon in opposition to Shamir’s peace initiative toward the Palestinians.
He met privately with Levy on Wednesday afternoon, their second get-together since the Central Committee meeting ended in pandemonium Monday night.
Shamir was said to be trying to drive a wedge between Sharon and Levy, who is also minister of construction and housing. He would like to break up the powerful hard-line bloc at the top echelons of Likud, which includes Sharon, Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i, the minister of economics and planning.
LEVY MAY STRIKE DEAL WITH SHAMIR
Levy said Wednesday that the dissident bloc is alive and well. The three ministers were scheduled to meet Thursday morning.
They have bedeviled Shamir’s plan for Palestinian elections in the territories since he announced it last spring. At the moment, they are trying to impose constraints on a proposed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, hosted by Egypt, which is to set ground rules for the elections.
The hard-liners insist that Palestinians deported from Israel be excluded from the Egyptian-hosted talks. They also want to prevent Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem from voting or running in the proposed elections.
Shamir agrees in principle, but has been more equivocal in his public statements, explaining that the government needs room to maneuver.
The Labor component of the unity government is prepared to make concessions to the Palestinians under certain conditions.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Labor’s No. 2 leader, has proposed that a forum of the top four ministers take the immediate tactical decisions needed to keep the peace process on track.
The four are Shamir and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, representing Likud, and Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Rabin of Labor.
The so-called “Forum of Four” supersedes the 12-member Inner Cabinet of six Likud and six Labor ministers, which is officially the government’s top policy-making body, but rarely achieves a consensus.
Levy said Wednesday there was “no urgency” for the Inner Cabinet to make any decisions on the peace process. He said he hoped that when the time came, all of the Likud ministers, including the prime minister, would support the hardline position.
Levy is rumored to be seeking certain favors from Shamir, in return for which he might ease pressure on the prime minister.
According to one report, he would like the Cabinet portfolio vacated by Sharon to go to his close supporter, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, who is chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Levy also reportedly would like the “Forum of Four” expanded to six, to accommodate himself and another Labor minister.
In Tel Aviv, Sharon supporters demonstrated Wednesday outside the Industry and Trade Ministry offices, urging their man to reconsider.
Sharon invited several of them to his office and reportedly told them he intended to go through with his resignation and continue the fight from the Knesset back-benches.