JERUSALEM (Jan. 21)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir used the occasion this week of his first meeting with the new U.S. ambassador, William Harrop, to reiterate his determination to continue the peace process, despite the political disarray surrounding his tottering government.
He said there was no truth whatsoever to Arab allegations that Israel is using the political crisis as a pretext to drag its feet in the bilateral peace talks with the Palestinians, which concluded
Foreign Minister David Levy, off to Beijing and a possible breakthrough in diplomatic relations with China, affirmed the prime minister’s assurances.
The very fact that Shamir’s government lost its parliamentary majority proves beyond doubt its commitment to the peace process, Levy said.
The Likud-led coalition was reduced to 59 seats in the 120-member Knesset when its two most extreme right-wing partners defected.
Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman, leader of the Tehiya Party, and Rehavam Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio who heads Moledet, resigned Sunday in protest against an alleged offer of limited self-rule to Palestinians in the administered territories.
Under Israeli law, the resignations became effective Tuesday.
Shamir, however, is in no hurry to quit himself, though he cannot govern long as a minority bloc. The usual scenario is for the Knesset to dissolve itself and set a date for early elections. Until the elections, Likud would head a caretaker regime.
The opposition Labor Party was rebuffed Monday, when it approached Likud to discuss an early election date. It then decided, at a raucous meeting of its Knesset faction, to try to topple the government with a no-confidence motion next week.
Although the motion’s passage would give Labor a chance to try to form an alternative government, Shamir does not seem overly disturbed.
Labor is badly split. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin have renewed their perennial feud and were hurling invective at each other at the faction meeting.
Shamir has reason to be confident there will be enough defections from opposition ranks to defeat the no-confidence measure.
The prime minister is under pressure within his Likud bloc from Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who has challenged him for party leadership.
Sharon opposes the peace talks and is a power behind the accelerated settlement-building in the administered territories, which has seriously upset U.S.-Israeli relations.
WON’T REBUKE ENVOY TO U.S.
Shamir has sounded just as militant on the settlements issue lately. But he made clear he intends to take no action against Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Zalman Shoval; for a remark Monday on American public television’s “MacNeil/ Lehrer News Hour.”
The envoy suggested that the prime minister’s forceful pledges to continue settlement-building were electioneering speeches.
“Well, perhaps there was a touch of that,” an uncharacteristically mellow Shamir told reporters Tuesday at a tree-planting ceremony on Mount Scopus.
Sharon, by contrast, demanded that Shoval be “called to order” for his “garrulousness.”
He professed to be shocked by suggestions, emanating from Police Minister Ronni Milo, that the prime minister was preparing a discreet “deal” with Washington to put a freeze on settlements in exchange for U.S. guarantees covering $10 billion in loans Israel needs to absorb new immigrants.
Meanwhile, two U.S. Jewish leaders arrived in Israel this week to brief Shamir on the climate in Washington.
Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive director, were expected to give the Israeli leader a frank appraisal of the chances the loan guarantees have if his settlement policies continue.