Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Weekend Developments: Political Leaders Mapping Positions Following Inquiry Panel’s Report and Sharo

February 14, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The leaders of most political parties were meeting today to hammer out their positions following the publication of the commission of inquiry report and the reorganization of the Cabinet in the aftermath of Ariel Sharon’s resignation as Defense Minister but remaining in the Cabinet as Minister-Without-Portfolio.

Premier Menachem Begin will take over the defense portfolio until a successor to Sharon is named. It was indicated over the weekend that Moshe Arens, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, will be named Defense Minister. (Related stories, pages 2 and 4.)

The parties comprising the Likud coalition, including the National Religious Party, appeared receptive today to the idea of widening the government’s base of support by establishing a national unity coalition.


Labor Party leader Shimon Peres refrained from any immediate comment on such a broad coalition. However, he said that he would accept an invitation from Begin to meet with him to discuss ways of reducing “verbal violence” between opposing political parties and between the different social groupings in the country.

But Peres made it clear that he would not initiate any meeting with Begin, even though he had asked for meetings with the Premier during the fighting in Lebanon “but only to express our opinion during certain phases.” The Labor Party chief said it was up to the Premier to invite the leader of the opposition to inform him of developments, not the other way around.

Some Labor Party members said that Peres should refuse to meet Begin to discuss either verbal or physical violence, such as the grenade attack on the Peace Now demonstration last Thursday which left one person dead and nine wounded. (See separate story, P.3.) To hold such a meeting would be to admit that both Likud and Labor bore equal responsibility for violence, whereas the violence had actually been initiated by the Likud, opponents of a Peres-Begin meeting said.


Meanwhile, the meaning of Sharon’s resignation as Defense Minister, but not from the Cabinet, and its political consequences within Israel and in Israel’s relations with Washington, continued to be a source of speculation and analysis over the weekend Sharon decided to resign Friday morning, some 12 hours after the Cabinet voted 16-1 Thursday night to accept the report and the recommendations of the commission of inquiry. The one opposing vote was Sharon’s. The panel had recommended that Sharon resign or, if he refused to do so, to be dismissed by Begin.

Sharon’s resignation goes into effect tomorrow. At the beginning of next week he will meet with officers of the general staff to bid them farewell and will hold a similar meeting with the staff of the Defense Ministry.

Sharon’s resignation came as a surprise, since he had made it clear both before and after the Cabinet session last Thursday that he would not resign, regardless of the Cabinet’s decision about the inquiry commission’s report. His resignation, therefore, was seen as an attempt to stay in the government and fight from within for a leading portfolio. There was some speculation that he might be named to deal with the settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But Begin has remained mum on Sharon’s future position in the Cabinet.

Sharon’s resignation also galvanized supporters of former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman into starting consultations regarding his possible comeback. They appealed to Begin to invite his former Defense Minister for a meeting to try to clear the air between them. Weizman left the Cabinet after his relations with Begin soured in 1980.


An ebullient Sharon made his first public appearance, several hours after he announced his resignation, at a meeting of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv. He was clearly buoyed by the standing ovation he received and joked with his supporters in the audience.

He told the meeting that the main reason he opposed accepting the inquiry commission’s report was its reference to Israel’s “indirect responsibility” for the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps in west Beirut. “This is completely untrue,” Sharon declared. “Israel bears no responsibility, either direct or indirect, for what happened there. But it will be used by our enemies and brand us with a mark of Cain for many years to come.”


In spite of the decisive 16-1 vote by the Cabinet to accept the inquiry panel’s report and recommendations and Sharon’s own announcement of resignation, confusion followed Sharon’s decision. Justice Minister Moshe Nissim said he understood that the resignation meant quitting the Cabinet altogether. Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai, who described himself as a close friend of Sharon, said he, too, understood, that Sharon would not want to remain in the Cabinet after being deprived of his defense portfolio.

Legal experts explained on Friday that Sharon’s resignation was not officially a resignation They pointed out that resignation from the ministry meant by law resignation from the Cabinet, According to Article 17 of Israel’s Basic Law, the Cabinet as a whole decides on the reshuffling of portfolios, not any minister nor even the Prime Minister.

Recommended from JTA