Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is forging ahead with peace moves that could lead to a major crisis in the coalition Cabinet. Mr. Peres travels today to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on an international Mideast peace conference and the issue of Palestinian representation in peace talks. The discussions are viewed as a follow-up to a meeting the two had last fall when Peres was Israeli prime minister.
Peres's move has met with an icy reception from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who warned that Peres's talks could bring down the government. Mr. Shamir, who is currently visiting the United States, was informed of Peres's trip but did not initiate it. He said Peres had no authority to conclude any agreement on an international conference without Cabinet approval.
Peres sees his trip as part of his ongoing efforts to promote the Mideast peace process, if need be through an international forum for direct talks with Jordan and the Palestinians. However, the move brings to a head a simmering debate in the last two weeks between Shamir and Peres over the need for an international conference. The argument reflects the ideological differences between the two men and their parties.
The controversy over Peres's peace diplomacy is not the first in the Israeli Cabinet, which is a coalition of Peres's centrist Labor Party and Shamir's right-wing Likud bloc. When Peres was prime minister, he sent an envoy to Cairo in a move that angered then Foreign Minister Shamir. Shamir and Peres switched jobs last October under a rotation agreement between their parties. Analysts here say the fact that both men lead equally powerful blocs in the government has made Peres a less subservient foreign minister than in a one-party dominated government.
On a recent visit to Europe, Peres expressed support for an international conference as the best available means of getting Jordan to the negotiating table. Shamir has consistently rejected the international conference idea as a pitfall that would put Israel in a disadvantageous negotiating postion. During his visit to the US, he publicly disagreed with US Secretary of State George Shultz on the need for an international conference and repeated his position that only bilateral Arab-Israeli talks without preconditions could lead to a settlement.
Peres has called Shamir's position ``a murder of the peace process,'' and Shamir has charged that Peres was selling out Israel's vital interests.
The Peres trip has brought the disagreement over the tone of Israel's regional policy to a boiling point. Peres vowed yesterday not to be intimidated out of advancing the peace process with an international conference. Critics charged that Peres was trying to bypass the prime minister by traveling to Cairo while Shamir was still overseas.