JERUSALEM (Oct. 24)
The crisis that suddenly flared in the long-troubled relationship between Israeli Prime Mister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister David Levy is open to a variety of interpretations.
Some see it as a storm in a teacup; others as open war in Likud’s top leadership ranks.
The rift followed Shamir’s announcement Wednesday evening that he would personally head the Israeli delegation to the Middle East peace conference opening Oct. 30 in Madrid.
Levy, who had expected to be in charge, saw this as a gesture of no confidence and announced that he would stay home.
His detractors accused him of behaving like a petulant child. But supporters rallied around Levy, especially after his brother, Maxim, announced that the Moroccan-born minister would challenge Shamir for the office of prime minister.
One of Levy’s closest supporters, Knesset member Reuven Rivlin, worried that “the Foreign Ministry and the foreign minister are no longer relevant to the peace process.”
But the contest clearly is between the moderate and the hard-line wings of Likud.
Shamir will be leading a team that includes some of Likud’s most uncompromising Knesset members and right-wing ideologues, among them reportedly a Jewish settler from the West Bank.
Shamir’s two top aides, Yossi Ben-Aharon, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein will head the delegations to the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian talks respectively.
‘NARROW POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS’
Perhaps the bitterest pill for Levy was Shamir’s invitation to his hawkish deputy foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to come to Madrid.
Levy, who has long been feuding with Netanyahu, had intended to leave him behind.
But the Israeli delegation was not quite final as of Thursday night, and there were indications Shamir was trying to appease Levy.
Shamir was said to have promised the foreign minister by telephone that he would include Levy supporters in the delegation.
He mentioned Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval.
Angry members of the Levy camp accused Shamir of acting out of narrow sectarian motives and demanded that he resign as leader of the Likud bloc. They also urged Levy to fire Netanyahu, whom they accused of undermining the foreign minister.
But Levy personally remained above the fray. He told his supporters he would conduct himself in a “statesmanlike manner.” He instructed the Foreign Ministry staff to extend all possible help to the Israeli delegation.
Politicians of the opposition Labor Party also accused Shamir of acting out of “narrow political considerations.”
But two Knesset members on the left, Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement and Yair Tsaban of Mapam, said that despite the “regrettable harm” done Levy, Shamir’s decision to go to Madrid meant he was taking full responsibility for the peace process and could not blame Levy later for being too moderate.
Analysts agreed Thursday that Shamir has three important reasons to head the Israeli delegation.
First, he wants to balance the pro-Palestine Liberation Organization orientation of the Palestinian delegation with a tough Israeli delegation.
Second, he was concerned by recent indications that Levy might force him to adopt a much more moderate line than he ever intended.
And third, Shamir is said to believe genuinely that his participation in the conference is essential.
In an interview with The New York Times, Shamir said he was willing to “take risks” for the sake of peace, an unusual concession from him, according to those who know Shamir best.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, when asked about Shamir’s decision to go to Madrid, said the United States welcomes the prime minister’s participation.