Right-wing Revolt Rocks Coalition

The right wing of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s coalition government erupted with anger Wednesday over the announcement in Moscow that the United States and Soviet Union plan to convene a Middle East peace conference in October.

Bush said he was sending Secretary of State James Baker to Jerusalem directly from Moscow to try to persuade Shamir to give Israel’s official assent to peace talks.

“Chutzpah,” declared Geula Cohen, a Knesset member of the far-right Tehiya party. The superpowers had no right to announce a peace conference “before receiving a formal reply from Israel,” Cohen said.

Tehiya’s leader, Minister of Science and Energy Yuval Ne’eman, said his party would leave Shamir’s government before any conference began. But Ne’eman left open the “tactical” question of just when to quit, which will probably be the subject of discussions at party forums.

Tehiya hopes it can influence Shamir “not to go to a conference that would be disastrous for Israel,” Ne’eman said.

He was sharply critical of Bush’s “treatment of Israel,” which he said reflected a sense that Israel was “wimpish” in face of U.S. political muscle.

Minister-Without-Portfolio Rehavam Ze’evi, whose Moledet party is to the right even of Tehiya, seemed less agitated by the Moscow announcement. The pre-conference negotiations are far from over, he said, and it is entirely unclear that there will in fact be a conference.

“Let them have the conference; Israel has not decided whether to attend,” Ze’evi said. He hinted, however, at vigorous rear-guard action by the right-wing bloc in the Cabinet if and when Shamir seeks approval to join a conference.

The rumblings of revolt on the far right immediately raised speculation that Shamir might seek to set up a new unity government with the Labor Party. Alternatively, pundits said, he could dissolve the government and call early election.

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