Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres will have some explaining to do when he returns to Israel this weekend. His trip to Washington and New York, hailed here as a public-relations success, has caused an uproar among ministers of the right-wing Likud bloc, coalition partner of Mr. Peres's centrist Labor Party.
The outcry is expected to peak when Peres returns and faces debates in the Cabinet and parliament. But few analysts say it will cause the fragile year-old government to collapse.
The latest Labor-Likud row centers on the main issue dividing the two parties, the future of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Labor favors territorial compromise with Jordan, and Peres has been straining mightily against the bonds of his coalition agreement with Likud to respond positively to a call by Jordan earlier this month for talks with Israel. Likud opposes any sort of compromise.
Peres's attempt at the United Nations Monday to seize the peace initiative from Jordan is bound to bring matters to a head. No sooner had Peres left Israel than Likud Cabinet Minister Ariel Sharon attacked him for ``going behind the government's back'' and taking with him proposals not approved by the Cabinet. While Peres was in closed meetings with President Reagan and other US officials the criticism died down, giving way to a wait-and-see attitude.
But Peres's UN address, with its explicit references to support for peace talks by an international forum, demarcation of borders, and immediate interim arrangements with Jordan, set off alarm bells in the Likud.
Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, a Likud member, said Peres had ``seriously deviated from the basic guidelines of the government.''
The guidelines, hammered out after painstaking negotiations for the formation of the government a year ago, call for peace talks with Jordan and promotion of the peace process on the basis of the 1979 Camp David agreements. The accords envision a five-year interim period of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, during which talks would be held with Jordan and the Palestinians to determine the areas's ultimate future.
Mr. Levy charged that Peres had virtually abandoned Camp David by calling for immediate arrangements and border demarcation in the West Bank.
In an interview on Israel Radio yesterday, Peres retorted that his proposals for interim arrangements matched the interim period mentioned in the Camp David agreements.
Levy and other Likud ministers charged that Peres's proposal of international support for peace talks contradicted Israel's insistence on direct negotiations.
``Whoever deviates from the basic guidelines of the national-unity government is endangering the existence of the Cabinet,'' Levy warned.
Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai joined Levy in criticizing Peres for not explicitly ruling out the Palestine Liberation Organization as a partner to talks. Peres's invitation to ``delegates that represent peace, not terror'' was ``closing the eyes to the PLO.''
``This is not government policy,'' Modai said. He announced he would funnel increased funds to establishment of Jewish cities on the West Bank and give the settlements ``top priority in light of the impending danger.''
Labor lined up firmly behind Peres and defended his argument that he had not overstepped policy guidelines. Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev said the guidelines did not rule out talks on a basis other than Camp David, and other party officials said Peres's speech gave a significant push to talks with Jordan.
Political analysts agree the debate will climax when Peres returns and the ministers learn the details of the discussions in Washington.
Peres is certain to be grilled in the Cabinet about his trip, they say, and will have to give full account for every statement made abroad.
But the sharp debate that will surely follow will not bring the Cabinet down unless Peres brings with him tangible results the Likud cannot accept, the analysts say.
Likud officials agree that if Peres produces real progress toward talks with Jordan, beyond his declaration at the UN, the Cabinet may well face its moment of truth.
If Peres's statements remain mere words, they say, there will be a major political storm, but it will pass.