JERUSALEM (Mar. 5)
The conspicuous absence of Deputy Premier David Levy from a crucial consultation of Likud ministers at the prime minister’s residence Monday night raised speculation that yet another major Cabinet defection may be imminent.
The meeting was the second in 24 hours to consider the latest American compromise formula for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
But according to Levy, who opposes Shamir’s diplomacy, “we’re dealing with faits accomplis.”
He charged that Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker “evolved these formulas between them, and we are being asked to rubber-stamp them.”
Levy, who is minister of construction and housing, is the last of the three dissenters in the Cabinet to remain in Likud or in the government.
Ariel Sharon, the former minister of industry and trade, resigned Feb. 19, after an inconclusive showdown with Shamir before the Likud Central Committee a week earlier.
Yitzhak Moda’i stayed on as minister of economics and planning, but bolted Likud’s Liberal Party wing and is trying to set up an independent Knesset faction with other former Likud Liberals.
Levy has spoken vaguely of resigning, but if he leaves the government, his political fortunes may slump. As deputy premier, he is in effect a shadow prime minister, who would take office if Shamir resigned while Likud still governed.
POPULAR WITH RANK AND FILE
If Levy resigns, he would find himself on a collision course with Sharon, who is already pursuing his ambition to displace Shamir as Likud leader and prime minister.
Many observers believe Levy compromised his position with the Likud hard-liners by staying in the government after Sharon left. He aroused their ire by having several private meetings with Shamir, which seemed to bring them close to a reconciliation.
But those sessions eventually broke up in mutual recrimination. Shamir widened the rift by passing over several of Levy’s closest supporters when he reshuffled the Cabinet to fill the vacancy left by Sharon.
Levy is immensely popular with the party rank and file. Political observers say that if he decides to quit the government, he could precipitate a disastrous split in Herut, the main component of Likud.
Meanwhile, Sharon, who is chairman of the Central Committee, is trying to reconvene the 2,600-member body for the second time in less than a month, in the hope that it will reject Shamir’s peace initiative toward the Palestinians.
Shamir maintains that the party’s constitution requires his consent, which he refuses to give. Sharon, for his part, argues that decisions taken by Likud ministers are invalid unless the Central Committee endorses them.
Nor is all running smoothly in the Labor half of the government.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres attacked Shamir’s inflexibility at a Labor foreign policy forum Sunday night and intimated he is ready to end the coalition with Likud.
But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin cautioned the group against acting in “haste.”