Israel's Modai Quits Post to Cool Crisis : Justice Minister Acts After Peres Threatens Firing

Associated Press

Justice Minister Yitzhak Modai resigned today, saying he wanted to defuse the latest crisis endangering Israel's 21-month-old coalition government.

Modai handed in his resignation at an emergency Cabinet meeting called after Prime Minister Shimon Peres threatened to fire the justice minister, saying Modai had repeatedly insulted him.

In a speech Saturday, Modai accused Peres of knowing as little about justice as he knows about economics. It was the latest in a series of barbs which had already led to Modai's removal from the Finance Ministry in April.

Takeover Motive Alleged

He also accused Peres of trying to use a scandal involving Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, to prevent Likud leader and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir from taking over as prime minister.

The scandal centers on allegations that agents beat to death two captured Palestinian bus hijackers in 1984 and that the killings and a subsequent cover-up were authorized by Shamir, prime minister at the time.

Ministers from Modai's right-wing Likud bloc ratified Modai's resignation today because the brewing crisis threatened to topple the government three months before Shamir is to take over as prime minister under a power-sharing agreement.

'Had No Choice'

"We came to terms with (the resignation) because we had no choice," Social Welfare Minister Moshe Katsav of Likud told reporters after the Cabinet session.

Labor ministers meeting today said they would oppose allowing Modai to return to a government seat in the coalition government once the scheduled power exchange takes place, Israel radio reported.

Modai, who invited reporters to his East Jerusalem office to announce his decision, accused the Labor Party of trying to wriggle out of the rotation of power in October.

"I have never seen such terrible injustice. . . . Likud ministers are afraid to speak lately," Modai said.

To Avoid Crisis

Modai said he was resigning to avoid plunging "the country into a coalition crisis or, God forbid, early elections."

A public opinion survey published today in the Maariv newspaper said Labor could form a government without Likud if elections were held today. The poll said Labor would win a 19-seat lead over the Likud in the 120-seat Parliament. The Likud-Labor coalition was formed after elections in July, 1984, which resulted in a stalemate.

A previous attempt by Peres to fire Modai nearly broke up the coalition in April.

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