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Shamir Dismisses Peres from Cabinet, Prompting Mass Defection from Labor

Israel’s national unity government took a decisive step toward dissolution Tuesday, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir informed the Cabinet he was dismissing Vice Premier Shimon Peres.

All other Labor Party ministers responded immediately by announcing their collective resignation and walking out of the Cabinet room.

The move followed Shamir’s refusal to call an Inner Cabinet vote Sunday on the latest U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian talks on the peace process.

The Labor Party characterized the failure to take action as tantamount to a negative response. Its Central Committee met the following day and empowered the party leadership to “take the appropriate steps.”

On paper, the dismissal and resignations only go into effect after a statutory cooling-off period of 48 hours. Shamir said Tuesday that he would use the time to pursue conciliation efforts.

But the consensus among political observers Tuesday was that the premier’s action and the Labor ministers’ inevitable response were irrevocable.

The next public testing-time in the political drama will come at 11 a.m. Thursday morning, when the Knesset is due to debate nine no-confidence motions. The latest of these was submitted by Labor itself at midday Tuesday, following the departure of the party’s ministers from the government.

The outcome of the vote will depend largely on the Orthodox parties, which collectively hold 18 scats in the 120-member Knesset. Likud holds 40 and Labor holds 39.

TALKS WITH SMALLER PARTIES

If Agudat Yisrael alone joins with Labor and the other parties of the left, a block of 60 votes will be constituted, one short of a majority. Support from any one member of the other religious parties or a single defection from Likud would bring the government down.

Labor’s Peres announced midday Tuesday that his party would begin negotiations with all possible partners immediately after the Thursday vote, to build a “peace government.”

In practice, though, Labor leaders are already engaged in intensive behind-the-scenes sessions with the various potential partners –just as Shamir and his Likud ministers are holding talks with many of the same Orthodox politicians, in an effort to woo them away from Labor.

One prediction making the rounds of the Knesset halls Tuesday was that if Shamir feels Thursday that his government is about to fall in the confidence vote, he will pre-empt that scenario by tendering his resignation to President Chaim Herzog.

That would automatically trigger the resignation of the entire government. Herzog would then give the party leader with the best chance of putting together a government three weeks to do so.

Shamir, claiming he had the best chance, would then attempt to set up a narrow, Likud-led coalition embracing the rightist parties Tehiya, Tsomet and Moledet.

Under Israeli law, as soon as a government falls, it becomes a. transitional administration, pending the creation of a new government. No minister can enter or leave such an administration until a new coalition is formed or until national elections are held.

HAMMER COMPROMISE FALLS THROUGH

Labor had hoped to remain in the government until Thursday’s no-confidence votes, meaning that it would stay in power during the transition period. That is why its Central Committee had been circumspect in announcing the party’s intentions Monday evening.

But Shamir said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that it had been starkly clear that Peres and his colleagues were intent on bringing down the unity government.

“We weren’t born yesterday,” Shamir said of himself and his Likud colleagues. “We understood Labor’s game.”

Religious Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party had worked strenuously Monday to get Likud and Labor to agree to a compromise on the American peace plan.

Its main elements, as Hammer explained Tuesday, were that the Inner Cabinet convene to endorse the U.S. plan but also issue the following declarations:

* The status of Jerusalem is not up for negotiation.

* Palestinians will never have autonomy in Jerusalem.

* Israel will not negotiate in Cairo with any member of the Palestinian delegation that proclaims himself to be a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. If the entire delegation does so, Israel would walk out of the talks.

Under the Hammer plan, Israel would not allow any residents of East Jerusalem to run as candidates in the Palestinian elections Shamir has proposed holding in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The issue of whether East Jerusalem Arabs could vote in the elections would be decided by the Cabinet before the talks in Cairo begin.

Hammer’s proposal appeared to have early support from Likud, which had balked at accepting the U.S. plan. But his compromise fell through when Likud and Labor could not agree when to hold the new Inner Cabinet session.

PARTIES BLAME EACH OTHER

Shamir demanded that the meeting take place Friday and that Labor, meanwhile, pledge not to support the no-confidence motions in the Knesset the day before.

Labor demanded that the Inner Cabinet meeting take place on Wednesday, so that the option of supporting the no-confidence motions remained open the day after.

Both parties blamed each other Tuesday for the failure to achieve compromise.

“They refused to withdraw their threat,” Shamir said of the Labor ministers.

“They tried to twist our arm,” Peres said of his Likud counterparts.

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