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Shamir Hailed by His Cabinet, but is Still at Odds with Levy

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir won a vote of confidence from his Cabinet colleagues Sunday for his leadership of the Israeli delegation at the Madrid peace conference.

He seemed to be counseling patience when he told them the conference is “at its early stage” and that the important developments are yet to come.

Shamir returned to Jerusalem on Friday after a verbal brawl with the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa. He praised the two co-hosts, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin, for their “objective” positions.

He was less pleased with the stance of the European Community, represented by Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, who currently chairs the E.C. Council of Ministers.

Shamir dismissed the Arabs’ speeches as the usual anti-Israel rhetoric so often heard at the United Nations. He accused the Syrian foreign minister of repeatedly distorting history.

But many Israelis who watched the Madrid proceedings on television were more interested in knowing whether and how Shamir intended to mend fences with his own foreign minister, David Levy.

The two men met for 30 minutes Sunday but apparently resolved nothing. They agreed to continue their conversation Wednesday.

NETANYAHU ROLE PRAISED

Relations between the two, which were always troubled, plunged when Shamir announced shortly before the Madrid opening that he would personally lead the Israeli delegation, although the conference was to be conducted on the foreign ministerial level.

The relatively moderate Levy took that as a personal vote of no confidence and stayed home. He was further infuriated because Shamir invited the hawkish deputy foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he does not get along.

Netanyahu emerged as spokesman for the Israeli delegation. Some of Levy’s foes rubbed salt in his wounds by praising the younger diplomat at Sunday’s Cabinet session for the skill with which he organized Israeli public relations efforts in Madrid.

Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan of the far right Tsomet party proposed Netanyahu be appointed minister of information.

There was no reaction from Levy, who sat silent throughout the Cabinet meeting. The foreign minister was in fact the only minister who said nothing about the Madrid conference.

Health Minister Ehud Olmert said he was sure Shamir and Levy would eventually patch up their differences.

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