Foreign Minister Shimon Peres appears to be staking his political career on a proposal for an international Mideast peace conference. The plan is strongly opposed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his right-wing Likud Party, and the disagreement could bring down Israel's coalition government. Analysts say that if Mr. Peres fails to show that an international conference is really at hand, he could be blamed for the government's downfall and lose many votes in subsequent elections.
Peres and Mr. Shamir agreed yesterday to submit the international conference issue to Israel's 10-man inner Cabinet on Monday. Peres said he hoped a vote would be taken the same day, but that it is likely to take longer.
Political observers and some Cabinet ministers say they are baffled by Peres's single-minded push to bring his international conference plan to a Cabinet vote despite signs that there are still significant areas of disagreement between Israel and Jordan on the terms of the conference.
Peres has said that the broad guidelines for the conference have already been agreed to by Israel and Jordan and formulated in an American-sponsored document.
However, Likud ministers and other observers argue that details of certain key issues have yet to be nailed down, such the precise nature of Palestinian representation and the role of the Soviet Union and the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
``I assume Peres knows what he wants, but I want to know what he wants,'' said Yigael Hurvitz, minister without portfolio from the right-leaning Ometz Party.
Likud leaders have charged that Peres has deliberately hidden the unfinished nature of his international conference plan because he wants to use the issue to break up the government and achieve his true aim - new elections.
Even members of his own Labor Party - who Peres briefed on the plan last week - admit privately that they are in the dark about the details of an understanding with Jordan reported by Peres. King Hussein's denial yesterday of any agreement with Peres has only fueled the doubts surrounding the foreign minister's plan.
Some political observers have suggested that Peres may be rushing to submit his peace conference proposal in order to beat the deadline of a possibly damaging parliamentary committee report in two weeks on the government's actions in the Pollard spy case.
Early press leaks have indicated that the committee will direct sharp criticism at Peres and other government leaders and find them negligent in the handling of the espionage affair.
Progress in the peace process could help Peres deflect criticism following the committee report, these observers say.
Sources close to Peres insist, however, that he is genuinely motivated by a conviction that the chance for peace must be seized. They say Peres truly believes that a common basis has been laid for an international conference, and that the Cabinet must decide in favor of participation or break up.
Observers caution that Peres is risking his political future on a conference that is far from certain. ``There is no breakthrough here,'' said a Palestinian close to Jordanian government circles. ``It's moving slowly, like a turtle, not a deer.''
Peres and his party could pay heavily in new elections if efforts to convene an international conference bogged down during an Israeli election campaign on the issue, observers say.
Any change in Arab and Soviet positions could scuttle plans for a conference and leave Peres exposed to charges that he had brought down the government for no reason. Peres' peace platform would be yanked from under him if prospects for negotiations vanished during his campaign, according to the observers. Peres' moves would then look like selfish political maneuvering rather than a genuine effort to obtain a popular mandate for negotiations.
Public opinion polls have also not been encouraging, with neither Labor nor Likud showing a clear majority that would enable either party to form a government on its own if new elections were held.
Political analysts agree that despite the very real risks, Peres appears to have passed the point of no return and must submit his proposal to a Cabinet vote. They say Peres must demonstrate that an international conference is possible as his political future depends on it.