In New Cabinet, Peres Signals Importance of Peace Process : Israel: Acting premier elevates some younger leaders in a ‘continuation government.’
Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced a new Israeli government Tuesday that sends a political message of continuity on the peace process and elevates a younger generation of Labor leaders to broaden his party’s appeal for next year’s national elections.
Like his predecessor, slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres kept the job of defense minister for himself so that he can personally oversee redeployment of Israeli troops from the occupied West Bank under the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
“This is a continuation government,” Peres said in a nod to Rabin.
Urging unity before the 1,200-member Labor Party Central Committee, he added that the nation must converge “to promote Israel and peace, to strengthen security and to march forward with our heads up high.”
In the new government, 47-year-old Economics Minister Yossi Beilin will become a special minister in the prime minister’s office and thus Peres’ right-hand man.
Considered one of the principal architects of the 1993 peace accord between Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Beilin will monitor implementation of the agreement and peace negotiations with Syria in the event they are resumed.
Retired army Gen. Ehud Barak, 53, is to take over from Peres as foreign minister. Peres will look to the former army chief of staff to shore up public confidence in the peace process by giving his seal of approval on security issues.
Haim Ramon, a former health minister, will leave his job at the helm of the huge Histadrut labor federation to take the post of interior minister, which Barak has held since July.
The ascendancy of Ramon and Barak--both Rabin proteges and former adversaries of Peres--riled some of the middle generation of Labor leaders, who believed that they were being passed over.
Police Minister Moshe Shahal reportedly threatened to resign before his post was upgraded to minister of internal security. He will continue to oversee the police, in addition to a civil defense force that has been under the army.
But he apparently will not get the control he sought over the General Security Service. That agency, known as Shin Bet, is under investigation for its failure to protect Rabin at the Tel Aviv peace rally where he was assassinated Nov. 4.
Peres kept the rest of the ministers from Rabin’s Cabinet in their posts.
Shahal, who opened the party meeting, listed the new Peres government’s top priorities as ensuring national security, democracy and the continuation of the peace process with the Palestinians. He said the Peres administration will also pursue further peace negotiations with Syria.
Peres said he will submit the new government today to the Knesset, or Parliament, where it is expected to be approved with 63 of the 120 votes and the same coalition that Rabin had.
That grouping includes Labor, the dovish Meretz bloc, Yiud--a small breakaway faction of the right-wing opposition Tsomet Party--and five Arab legislators.
In a bid to reach out to religious voters--and possibly expand his coalition in the future--Peres appointed Rabbi Yehuda Amital, head of the small religious Zionist movement Meimad, as a minister without portfolio.
Amital said he accepted the job to try to bridge the schism between religious and secular Israelis that deepened with the killing of Rabin by a religious 25-year-old Jewish law student, Yigal Amir.
Peres has said that progress on the peace front is more important to him than elections, but he clearly had his eye on the likely October, 1996, vote in raising Barak’s profile.
Barak had wanted the Defense Ministry, and many political analysts had assumed that Peres would place him there to put his military weight behind the peace process. Although Peres has served as defense minister before, he is seen as a dove.
In the end, said a government official, “Peres decided the main thing for Israelis in implementation of the peace agreement with the Palestinians is security and defense. They want to know whoever is in charge is waking up in the morning thinking about security.”
The official, who declined to be identified, said Peres “wants to win the election on his own, not on Rabin’s reputation and not on Barak’s claims.”