Israel's leadership rotation stalls over role of ousted minister

Squabbling between the two largest parties in Israel's Cabinet prevented Yitzhak Shamir from becoming prime minister on schedule Tuesday. Spokesmen for both the hard-line Likud bloc and for the centrist Labor Party were confident Mr. Shamir, head of the Likud, would take office this week. But analysts say the last-minute hitch in the scheduled job swap between Shamir and Labor leader Shimon Peres, now caretaker prime minister, is a preview of difficulties the two parties will have in working together for two more years.

The government was wracked by frequent crises during its first 25 months, one analyst points out, but survived because of Likud's desire to hold on until rotation and Labor's fear it might not win a clear majority in early elections.

``It's going to get worse from here,'' says Yosef Goell, lecturer of politics at Hebrew University. Labor, he points out, has no rotation to look forward to.

Shamir and Mr. Peres had met several times to discuss Labor's demands for changes in the 1984 agreement. But Peres's ministers apparently rejected those arrangements Tuesday. Shamir and Peres then met again to iron out differences. The main sticking point, both parties said, was the future of Yitzhak Modai, a former Cabinet minister whose Liberal Party is aligned with Likud.

Peres removed Modai from the Cabinet some months ago, after Modai insulted him. Shamir wants to bring him back in, a move Labor ministers oppose. Some Likud ministers say the delay belies Peres's promises to hold to the agreement. ``I think the Labor Party and Mr. Peres are losing points with the public . . .,'' says Likud's Moshe Arens. ``The initial impression was that Peres was determined to carry out the agreement.'' By arguing for revision, Arens says, ``Labor and Mr. Peres . . . are not really being very clever politically. It sounds like sour grapes.''

Likud and Labor ministers say Peres is under pressure from his party, which has grown increasingly bitter about the agreement. ``[Peres] signed a bad agreement,'' says one Labor Party member. ``He signed it because it was the only way to save his political career at the time, but the party is paying the price for it.''

Labor is fighting hard because it is worried about the next elections. Labor leaders fear Likud will take advantage of its position -- holding the premiership and all economic portfolios -- to claim that Likud rescued Israel's ravaged economy. In fact, most Likud Cabinet members voted against the successful economic recovery package last year.

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