Israel's Shamir Stands Firm Despite Minister's Resignation
JERUSALEM — AS the dust clears from Monday's tumultuous Likud Party showdown, two central features of Israel's political landscape appear surprisingly unchanged. Despite a major challenge posed by Likud conservatives, control of the fractious right-wing party that dominates Israel's year-old coalition government remains in the hands of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The departure of Ariel Sharon, Mr. Shamir's main rival who resigned as trade minister Monday, will leave Mr. Shamir free to continue Mideast peace efforts. Despite doubts about Likud's ultimate willingness to negotiate with Palestinians, the Labor Party appears as unlikely as ever to quit the coalition. Their patience tested, Labor moderates still believe that neither the party nor the peace process will be served by walking out now.
``The Likud has crossed a mine field successfully,'' says Hebrew University political scientist Avraham Diskin. ``In the short run, it looks as though Shamir came out with the upper hand.''
Mr. Sharon, a former defense minister, stunned the Likud conclave when he announced his resignation in protest at the government's failure to crush the 26-month-old Palestinian uprising.
``You have let terrorism run wild,'' Sharon told Shamir before the gathering that devolved into a shouting match over the peace process.
Sharon's decision to quit the Cabinet was prompted by the calculation that he would lose a vote on resolutions designed to restrict Shamir's options in the peace process, analysts speculate.
But while successful in throwing the party gathering into chaos, the strategy may backfire. Not only has Shamir claimed victory, but a cohesive triumvirate of renegade Likud ministers led by Sharon and Deputy Prime Minister David Levy seems to be unraveling. Jolted by Sharon's surprise announcement, Mr. Levy appears poised to reconcile himself with Shamir to salvage a long-coveted position as broker between left- and right-wing factions within the Likud.
It remains to be seen how flexible Shamir will be in future Cabinet discussions. Labor ministers are trying to win support for allowing residents of East Jerusalem and Palestinians deported from the occupied territories to be appointed to a delegation to negotiate with Israel. The United States and Egypt say the conditions are needed to bring Palestinians into the peace process.
Sharon may now use information gained as a Cabinet minister to force tougher measures against the uprising in the occupied territories and to block the peace process, political observers predict.
The potential for damage was demonstrated last week, when Sharon leaked secret information, obtained in a meeting of Israel's inner Cabinet, that two terrorists involved in an attack on an Israeli bus in Egypt 10 days ago were deported Palestinians. The disclosure could make it harder for Israel to accept deportees into a Palestinian delegation.
``Sharon is not resigning in order to be an outsider,'' says Professor Diskin. ``He's resigning to fight and he knows how to.''