Israeli premier, foreign minister reach accord, avert party crisis

April 06, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

JERUSALEM -- In classic Israeli political party brinkmanship, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir patched up differences yesterday with Foreign Minister David Levy to avert a crisis in Israel's ruling Likud bloc.

Mr. Levy vowed last week to quit the government at yesterday's weekly Cabinet meeting. But after an early morning fence-mending session with Mr. Shamir, the foreign minister announced that "common sense has triumphed" and that he would not resign.

Mr. Levy said he received from Mr. Shamir a promise to serve as Israel's foreign minister in the next government if Likud wins the June 23 elections. He also said he won greater representation for his supporters in the next government and Parliament and got a rare written commitment from the prime minister.

For Likud, Mr. Levy's impending resignation had hung like a dark cloud over the coming election season. Both supporters and opponents of the most hard-line government in Israeli history said the internal contention was strengthening Israel's center-left Labor Party.

Last week, in fact, Labor was running ahead of Likud in national opinion polls.

"We will work together with united forces for the sake of the samenational and social burdens before us and consider this crisis behind us," said the Moroccan-born Mr.Levy, 53.

It was a complete turnaround from Mr. Levy's comments last week. At the time, he accused rival Likud leaders of largely excluding his followers on the list of candidates for the upcoming elections.

Most, like Mr. Levy, are Sephardic Jews whose families came from North African or Middle Eastern countries.

Because the establishment Likud is largely Ashkenazi, or Jews of Eastern European origin, Mr. Levy suggested the allotment reflected a form of racism.

Mr. Levy, one of Likud's most enthusiastic supporters of the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process, also had complained that Mr. Shamir's office had taken over running Israeli foreign affairs. He was said to be unhappy with his role in the peace process and had criticized the prime minister for frayed relations with the United States.

Neither issue was addressed in yesterday's agreement.

Although the two officials reconciled their differences, their agreements stirred further dissent within Likud, Israeli Army Radio reported.

It said Defense Minister Moshe Arens, in a private meeting, told the premier that he had succumbed to "ethnic blackmail." Some Shamir supporters, the radio said, called the agreement "a scandal and a complete capitulation."

Likud recently assigned Mr. Arens to the No. 2 position on the party list, after Mr. Shamir, replacing Mr. Levy in the deputy party leader slot. Both men are seen as likely successors to Mr. Shamir.

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