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Government Unity Appears to Crack over Policy in the Territories

January 19, 1988
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The fundamental political and ideological differences that divide the Labor Party and Likud emerged at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting to fracture the appearance of solidarity the two coalition partners have managed to maintain during five weeks of violent disturbances in the administered territories.

According to leaks to the news media, angry exchanges erupted over the text of a Cabinet communique expressing the government’s support for the measures taken by the security forces to enforce law and order in the territories.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir of Likud proposed the standard statement, such as those published in past weeks denoting Cabinet approval of the military’s actions. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Labor insisted on a reference to the need for a negotiated political solution to the Palestinian problem.

The statement finally read by the Cabinet secretary to the news media asserted, among other things, that the Cabinet “expressed its esteem and support for the actions by the security forces and Israeli police, notwithstanding its internal disputes on topics related to the political process.”

According to sources quoted by the news media, Peres told Shamir, “There is a yawning gulf between us. . . You cannot draft Cabinet statements as though the government was your private property. . . What is happening today in the West Bank and Gaza is undermining our international standing.”


Peres reportedly infuriated Likud ministers by stating flatly that from now on, he intends to refer publicly to the administered territories as the “West Bank and Gaza Strip,” instead of “Judaea, Samaria and the Gaza district” which has been the standard form used by Israeli officials at home and abroad.

Judaea and Samaria are the biblical names of the southern and northern regions, respectively, of the West Bank. Their usage has strong political and emotional connotations because of the implication that they are an integral part of modern Israel as they were of the ancient Israelite kingdoms. This is the view held by Likud and other right-wing and religious factions.

But foreign governments and the international news media refer to the territory as the West Bank. Peres, in a lecture Sunday night at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, said hereafter he will conform with that nomenclature. He spoke at a seminar examining the effects of 20 years of Israeli rule over the administered territories.

He stressed to the audience the basic differences between Labor and Likud over a political settlement with the Palestinians.

According to the media reports, Peres was attacked and defended at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting over that issue. Labor and Welfare Minister Moshe Katzav of Likud’s Herut wing asked Peres, “Can’t you wait eight months?” a reference to the Knesset elections scheduled for next November.

Transport Minister Haim Corfu, also of Herut, asked, “What benefit will accrue from political references?”

Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a Laborite, stood by the foreign minister. “This government is divided between those who believe that a diplomatic initiative is an existential need for our country and those who believe that the present situation is itself the solution,” Shahal declared.

Apart from the verbal fireworks, the Cabinet session was reportedly a bleak debate over the situation in the territories. Ministers on both sides of the political divide were said to be deeply concerned that there is no guarantee the unrest will not erupt again once the curfews are lifted from the refugee camps.

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