JERUSALEM (Jan. 14)
Two far-right Cabinet ministers have stepped up their threats to quit Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s narrowly based coalition government, in the wake of reports that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington have begun discussing issues of substance.
“The chances that I will submit my resignation to the Cabinet Sunday are very high,” Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman, who heads the Tehiya party, said Tuesday.
A similar warning was sounded by Rehavam Ze’evi, leader of the Moledet party, who is a minister without portfolio. It is up to Shamir to “prove” that the Israeli negotiating team has not offered the Palestinians a plan for autonomy, Ze’evi said.
Palestinian autonomy in the administered territories is one of the goals of the 1978 Camp David accords, on which Israel says the peace process is based.
While there may be vast differences between the conceptions of autonomy held by Shamir’s Likud regime and the Palestinians, the parties of Israel’s far right are convinced that autonomy in any form will result in a Palestinian state. Consequently, they refuse even to allow the subject on the agenda.
“I cannot stay in a government that is setting about giving away parts of Eretz Yisrael to somebody else,” said Ne’eman, whose Tehiya faction holds three Knesset seats.
LABOR WOULD BACK GOVERNMENT
Moledet has only two seats. But if both parties defect, Shamir’s coalition would lose its parliamentary majority, and the government would have to resign and call for early elections.
Shamir has already lost the hard-right Tsomet party, whose leader, former Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, quit as agriculture minister last month.
Eitan’s departure was precipitated by Likud’s opposition to an electoral reform bill he backed.
Shamir’s chief of staff, Yossi Ahimeir, tried to convince the Tehiya and Moledet leaders that Israel’s negotiating team in Washington has made no substantive proposals to the Palestinians.
He said they merely have offered suggestions for the future agenda of the talks and received counterproposals from the other side. Ahimeir insisted the present round of talks in Washington would not go beyond procedural issues.
But Justice Minister Dan Meridor said Tuesday “the main point” is that this government is indeed committed to peace based on the Camp David autonomy plan, as everyone knows.
Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, reiterated Labor’s commitment to support the Likud government in the Knesset, as long as it “goes ahead with a genuine peace policy” and does in fact offer autonomy based on Camp David.
But political observers believe Shamir would sooner dissolve his government and face the electorate at an early date than keep it in office dependent on Labor’s support.