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Shamir Broaches Bringing Laborites into Government During Gulf Crisis

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has broached the idea of bringing his longtime Labor Party rivals, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, into the government if the crisis in the Persian Gulf takes a turn for the worse.

But Labor has quickly rejected the idea, demanding instead that the prime minister institute regular briefings with the two opposition leaders.

Shamir floated his suggestion Tuesday during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, when some members proposed that the two Labor leaders, both former premiers and former defense ministers, be allowed to join the committee, which reviews national security matters.

Sarah Doron, chairwoman of the Likud Knesset faction, remarked that Labor should have arranged to have its two leaders added to the committee before the Gulf crisis erupted during the Knesset’s summer recess.

Haim Corfu of Likud, chairman of the Knesset House Committee, said it was his committee’s role to make any such changes. He suggested this might be possible even during the recess, if two Labor members of the panel volunteered to step aside so their leaders could sit in on the proceedings.

Shamir said the desire for unity in the face of crisis is natural and understandable. He observed that, at his own request, Defense Minister Moshe Arens had recently consulted with Rabin on the Gulf situation.

The premier said he would not rule out persuading Peres and Rabin to join the committee in the future. “Everything depends on international and domestic developments,” he said.

Shamir recalled that prior to the Six-Day War, two Likud leaders — the faction was then known as Gahal — were co-opted to join the Labor government. One of them was Menachem Begin; the other was Yosef Sapir of Gahal’s Liberal Party faction.

Shamir acknowledged that the Labor Party of today might not be prepared to accept that sort of arrangement.

Indeed, the Labor Party secretary-general, Micha Harish, said Tuesday night that if the situation deteriorated and an emergency developed, Labor would want major changes and a “war Cabinet.” Bringing the two Labor leaders into the existing government would not be sufficient, he said.

Harish was sharply critical of Shamir’s behavior during the crisis, contending that his failure to brief opposition leaders regularly was unprecedented in Israel’s history.

He said that all Labor prime ministers, and Begin of Likud as well, had in similar situations ensured that opposition leaders were kept fully informed of unfolding developments.

In general, Labor has supported the government’s low-profile policy during the Gulf crisis, although Peres has several times criticized ministers for “talking too much.”

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