Israel’s two top government officials met here late Friday, but apparently failed to complete the timing and details of a Cabinet reshuffle intended to head off the collapse of the country’s fragile “national unity” coalition.
Few details of the discussions between Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who under the coalition agreement is scheduled to swap jobs with Peres in October, were immediately available.
Israel Radio reported that the centerpiece of the deal, an exchange of portfolios between Shamir and Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai, would be delayed so that Shamir can take a previously planned trip to Honduras and Costa Rica next month in his capacity as foreign minister.
The reported agreement is expected to be put before the entire Cabinet at its regular meeting on Sunday. However, there apparently remained important opposition to the deal within Shamir’s rightist Likud Bloc.
Modai Fueled Crisis
The reshuffle was billed here as a compromise to defuse a government crisis that emerged Monday when Peres demanded that Modai be removed as finance minister because of critical remarks that he had made about the premier in two recent newspaper interviews.
Shamir and the rest of Modai’s fellow ministers from the Likud half of the ruling coalition originally threatened to walk out of the Cabinet if Peres, leader of the centrist Labor Alignment, went through with a threat to oust Modai unilaterally.
Many Labor Alignment activists had been pressuring Peres to break the coalition anyway to avoid the obligation to exchange jobs with Shamir next October. In the end, however, both sides appeared reluctant to be seen as responsible for sabotaging a coalition that enjoys considerable public popularity.
It was still unclear here Friday night what impact the Cabinet shuffle will have on the rotation agreement.
“Many people around Peres say this is more or less what he wanted from the beginning--to get something for October,” commented Nahum Barnea, editor of the political weekly, Koterit Rashit.
The Treasury is a powerful post for shaping domestic policy and distributing patronage, and the party that controls it can use its influence over government spending to woo voters in case of new elections.
The Labor Alignment’s failure to secure a top economic portfolio as part of the September, 1984, national unity coalition agreement has long been viewed here as a serious blunder, and some analysts believe Peres precipitated the latest crisis to correct it.
Levy Balks at Change
However, there is clearly considerable opposition within Shamir’s Likud Bloc to giving up the finance portfolio in the fall. Likud Housing Minister David Levy, who just last month challenged Shamir’s leadership of the party, was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that the Finance Ministry portfolio must remain with the Likud after the rotation.
On the other hand, some Labor Alignment adherents worried that if Peres takes over Finance rather than the Foreign Ministry after the rotation, it will leave their party without an influential voice in foreign policy and further dim prospects for any movement toward Middle East peace.
However, Shahal said the fears are baseless.
“There is an agreement in writing which is supplementary to the coalition agreement . . . that the prime minister is obliged not to make any step without consulting and without the agreement of his deputy prime minister,” he said. “So in this case, whatever position Mr. Peres will have after the rotation, he will be in the picture--he will have the ability to continue with his efforts to try and negotiate for peace.”