The Mideast peace process, wrote one leading columnist here this week, does not include the war between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Following their latest angry bout, played out during the Israeli-Jordanian summit in Washington, the two men met privately in Jerusalem on Monday in an effort to resolve their differences.
After two hours of discussions — at which only one mutual friend, attorney Giora Eini, was present — the two inveterate allies and foes proclaimed a renewed “working relationship.”
But anything other than this public stance was not made entirely clear.
Their aides claimed they had hammered out an agreement marking their various areas of responsibility in the peace process and that it contained a pledge to cooperate fully and to conceal nothing from each another.
But in the words of the media wag cited above, whatever the details, this latest agreement can only restore a state of non-belligerency. Full peace and normalization in the Rabin-Peres relationship seem as remote as ever — particularly, as pundits say, as the 1996 elections approach.
Peres was reportedly much offended by being virtually sidelined by Rabin during the two days of ceremonies in Washington, where Rabin and Hussein officially ended 46 years of hostilities.
The Rabin-Peres tensions were only the latest display of a well-known and long-standing rivalry between the two.
The latest tension arose because Rabin apparently waited until the last moment to invite Peres to Washington. The invitation reportedly only came after Rabin aides leaked rumors Peres was not going to be included at all.
The slight was magnified by Peres’ highly visible role in negotiations with the Jordanians only days earlier, when he joined U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Salam al-Majali in a three-way session.
The July 20 meeting marked the first time that an Israeli official publicly set foot on Jordanian soil.
Peres’ glum disposition throughout last week’s Washington summit was a constant subject of media attention and speculation in Israel.
During the Washington trip last week, Rabin, in conversations and briefings, reportedly belittled Peres’ contribution to the diplomatic breakthrough with Jordan.
PERES CONSIDERED RESIGNING
In his public addresses, Rabin barely mentioned the foreign minister, who is widely regarded as the main architect of the government’s peace initiatives.
Peres was so hurt that at one stage he apparently told his confidants he was considering resigning.
According to some reports here, during Tuesday’s meeting with Peres, Rabin offered a faint expression of regret for having publicly and repeatedly belittled Peres during the Washington trip.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.
According to columnist Yoel Markus of the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz, the explanation for their tensions is to be sought wholly in the realm of politics.
In Markus’ view, this latest eruption of their two-decades-old hostility signals “the first round of the 1996 election buildup.”
Markus noted Rabin’s aside to President Clinton during the Washington trip that both of them would be facing re-election in 1996.
This was believed to be the first time the Israeli prime minister publicly confirmed that he intends to run again.
Peres, who served as prime minister for only two years, 1984-1986 — presiding over a grid-locked unity government — pointedly declined to field a question on his own possible prime ministerial ambitions during a recent television interview.
He merely noted that Rabin had been elected for the present term and that he fully supported the prime minister in their peacemaking odyssey.
Peres and Rabin first fought over the leadership of the Labor Party in 1974, when Rabin won by a narrow margin.
They have revived the rivalry every few years since then.
With no especially strong challenge evident from Labor’s next generation, the two septuagenarians may have yet another go at it come primary time before the 1996 election.
According to this interpretation, it was solely political considerations that led Rabin to seek all the credit for the Jordanian breakthrough and to deny Peres any part of the success.
(JTA correspondent Cynthia Mann in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.