Gambling Likud leader paves the way for split

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The Independent Online
Even by the standards of Israeli politics, it is proving a messy divorce. Accusing senior members of the opposition Likud of driving him out of the party, the former foreign minister, David Levy, said Likud's leader, Benyamin Netanyahu, had used "every possible vituperation to express unmitigated hate". Mr Netanyahu, for his part, accused Mr Levy for the first time of losing the 1992 election to Labour by "ceaseless internal bickering".

The exchanges took place after a Likud meeting in Tel Aviv adopted a method of holding internal elections which Mr Levy says will marginalise him in the party. Mr Netanyahu is doing little in practice to keep him from bolting. He told supporters: "If we do not eradicate factionalism, factionalism will eradicate us." He calculates that if he gets rid of Mr Levy, there is time for voters to forget the split before the next election at the end of 1996.

But he may be miscalculating. Nahum Barnea, a senior political commentator writing in the daily Yediot Aharonot, describes getting rid of Mr Levy as a gamble by Mr Netanyahu which may turn out to be an act of genius or political suicide. He recalls that in 1977 the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, ousted the National Religious Party in a similarly bold decision - and lost the subsequent election.

Mr Netanyahu's ambition isto create a new right-wing party appealing to the middle class. If Mr Levy does form a party, it will look to Sephardic Jews, particularly those from North Africa, as well as former supporters of Shas, the religious party formerly allied to the government but which has been hit by financial scandals.

In comparison with Likud, the Labour Party convention this week has been a model of unity between two old protagonists: Mr Rabin and the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres. They had earlier agreed to postpone a decision on direct election of the prime minister, over which they disagree, in the interests of the peace negotiations.

Both men emphasised that they believed they could get support for peace with Syria, even if it meant withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Mr Rabin said: "When the people of Israel see the draft proposal of the peace agreement with Syria, even if it involves a painful withdrawal, I believe they will support it."

The next seven months are crucial for the peace accord, said Mr Peres, and every other issue had to be put aside to achieve peace. If it was not agreed by the end of the year, it would never be agreed. "We must be honest with ourselves and face the truth: whoever wants all of the Golan must renounce all of the peace," he said.

Several Labour members of the Knesset (parliament) are threatening to set up their own party rather than see the Golan Heights returned to Syria.

Leading article, page 18

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