JERUSALEM (Apr. 5)
David Levy, having scored a stunning victory in a political poker game with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, withdrew his resignation Sunday, only hours before he was to have submitted it to the Cabinet.
At a triumphant noon news conference, he read out the long list of concessions Shamir had made in order to keep Levy and his faction firmly within the Likud camp for the June 23 elections.
Levy did his about-face exactly a week after telling supporters that he was quitting as foreign minister and deputy premier in the Likud government because his differences with Shamir and the party leadership had become irreconcilable.
But now, having been guaranteed the No. 2 spot in the Likud hierarchy and key positions for his allies in the top ranks of party, government and national institutions, Levy vowed to “heal the wounds” and work hard for victory at the polls.
“The agreement meets with my full satisfaction,” an ebullient Levy told reporters.
Shamir, who only a week earlier was calling Levy’s resignation threat a “joke,” reportedly admitted to ministerial colleagues that he signed an agreement acceding to virtually all of Levy’s demands because he feared the damage his departure could do the party with elections less than three months off.
Political observers questioned, however, whether Likud’s internal political crisis is indeed over.
While Shamir apparently has satisfied Levy, he disgruntled other Likud leaders, notably Defense Minister Moshe Arens, one of his closest associates and allies.
SECOND SPOT PROMISED TO LEVY
Arens accused Shamir on Sunday of “cracking” under Levy’s pressure.
he wondered aloud whether the worst damage had not already been inflicted by Levy’s long, embittered March 29 speech to supporters in Herzliya, in which he enumerated his grievances against Shamir and accused party leaders of slights he hinted might have stemmed from anti-Sephardic bias.
Arens has cause to be embittered in turn. Although the Likud Central Committee slotted him second after Shamir when it selected the party’s election slate on March 1-2, Levy, who fell to the fourth spot, would rank above him in a new Likud government.
Shamir promised in writing that Levy would retain the offices of foreign minister and deputy premier in any government, “whatever its composition,” in which Likud is a central partner.
This means that in the event of another unity government with the Labor Party, Shamir and Levy — not Shamir and Arens — would occupy two of the four top ministerial posts: premier, defense, foreign affairs and finance.
The basis of Levy’s claims on Shamir was the 32 percent support he received in the Central Committee when he challenged the prime minister for party leadership in February.
Shamir scored a comfortable victory with 46 percent. His only other challenger, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, received 21 percent. Yet when the Central Committee chose the Likud election slate, Levy found himself a notch below Sharon and Arens.
Moreover, most Levy supporters were excluded from the safest spots on the election slate and denied key party positions.
Levy publicly accused the Likud leadership of discrimination. He attributed his poor showing to collusion between the Shamir-Arens camp and the Sharon camp.
Implicit in Levy’s disaffection was the possibility that the Moroccan-born foreign minister would establish a political party of his own to compete in the elections. In the closely contested election now shaping up, the loss of two or three seats to a new party could spell defeat for Likud.
A SEAT ON JEWISH AGENCY BODY
Health Minister Ehud Olmert, a close confidant of Shamir’s, tried to put the best face on the surrender to Levy. He admitted that the prime minister had made far-reaching concessions, but suggested it was Levy who blinked first.
“Responsibility and sagacity prevailed at the last second over temper and petulance,” Olmert said Sunday.
Meanwhile, a beaming Levy read out the terms of the agreement to the news media.
In addition to being guaranteed one of the four top portfolios in any Cabinet, Levy would have the right to select one additional minister from among the Likud faction “identified with him.”
Levy’s camp was guaranteed “due representation” on Knesset committees, including committee chairmanships. It would have the power to appoint one member of the Jewish Agency Executive. Levy, along with Police Minister Ronni Milo, will recommend the composition of the Likud delegation to the World Zionist Congress this summer.
In addition, Levy got Shamir to promise exert his influence to have the outgoing Knesset pass the so-called “Norwegian Law.”
The measure would require everyone appointed to the Cabinet to resign their Knesset seat, making way for the next person on the party list.
Several Levy men, relegated to the bottom of the Likud list, would stand a better chance of entering the Knesset. But political observers doubt Likud can muster enough votes to pass the bill.
Levy pledged at his news conference to devote all his efforts and energy to the election campaign against Labor, which he acknowledged would be “tough.”