JERUSALEM (Mar. 11)
Israel’s government of national unity teetered on the verge of collapse Sunday, after the Inner Cabinet failed to take a vote on the latest American proposals in the peace process.
The Labor Party leadership bureau, meeting in the afternoon, branded the Inner Cabinet’s decision-not-to-decide an effective blockage of the peace process and “empowered the party’s Knesset faction to take the appropriate parliamentary steps.”
The party’s Central Committee was expected to meet Monday to vote on the planned course of action.
The formal end of the present government could come Thursday, when the Knesset is to debate a series of no-confidence motions introduced by various opposition parties of the left and the right.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared Sunday night that he still wanted the unity government to survive and that if he had “any new ideas,” he would certainly communicate them to Labor in the hours and days ahead.
But the premier stated flatly that he would not now consider accepting what he had rejected up till now — a clear reference to a last-minute compromise proposed by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Sunday morning, before the Inner Cabinet session.
Under the compromise, the Inner Cabinet would have responded favorably to the U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo. But the contentious issue of which Palestinians would participate in the talks would be submitted to the Knesset for consideration.
PARTIES WOOING ORTHODOX
At stake is the participation of one or more residents of East Jerusalem and Palestinians deported from the territories. The Likud bloc opposes this, while Labor is more flexible.
Shamir said that the present Knesset had not been elected with this issue in mind, and that therefore the members of the Knesset did not have a mandate to vote one way or the other.
The prime minister would not say what course he would pursue if the present government did indeed fall.
But he indicated he was not inclined to accept the advice proffered by some of his aides that he dismiss the Labor ministers from the present government before they had a chance to formalize their resignation.
In this way, Shamir could continue to run the country for an interim period at the helm of a “transitional government” comprising only Likud, Shas and the National Religious Party.
The aides advising this course of action reportedly contend that this situation would best enable Shamir and the Likud to prepare for new elections. But other Likud insiders say that ousting Labor in this way would boomerang against the Likud in an election campaign.
Behind the scenes, the two major parties are busily wooing the various Orthodox parties. Likud hopes to block a no-confidence vote and prevent Labor from forming a-narrow-based government. Labor is hoping to pick up enough Orthodox support to do so.
The Orthodox parties, for their part, took a rare, unanimous stand Sunday: They all spoke in favor of additional efforts to preserve the present government.
Religious Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer of the NRP said the gap between Labor and Likud was narrow enough to be bridged. Knesset member Menahem Porush of Agudat Yisrael said he was surprised Likud had spurned Rabin’s compromise formula.
The Orthodox parties all professed themselves opposed to a narrow government of either political hue, stating a preference for new elections if the national unity coalition cannot be preserved.
Political observers expected, nevertheless, that this unified stand would quickly give way to detailed negotiations if and when it becomes clear that the present government is indeed collapsing.
RABIN APPEARS TO BE BITTER
One objective complication, however, is that three of the four religious groups are discernibly split within themselves in their preferences. In Shas, Agudah and the NRP, there are Knesset members who favor an alliance with Labor and others who would prefer a partnership with Likud.
Only the two-seat Degel HaTorah faction, attached to the dovish Rabbi Eliezer Schach of Bnei Brak, is thought to lean toward Labor.
At the Labor leadership meeting Sunday afternoon, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the party chairman, spoke of the present government in the past tense, accusing Likud of setting out earlier in the day to foil any chance of pursuing the peace process.
Rabin, too, spoke with bitterness against Likud, who had sought, he said, “to dictate to us, to put constraints on us, to bring us to surrender our positions and our beliefs.”
“Well, we are not about to do that,” he said.
Plainly peeved at Likud’s having ignored his compromise formula, Rabin seemed to have acquiesced in the impossibility of continuing the partnership with Shamir.
But political observers cautioned that constitutional complexities mean there is still time for the prime minister and the defense minister to re-establish contact and devise some formula that could keep them together — which is plainly what both of them would still prefer.