Right-Wing Housing Minister Wants to Unseat Shamir Over Peace Moves
JERUSALEM (AP) _ In announcing his intention to run for prime minister, tough-talking Housing Minister Ariel Sharon has fired another salvo at the U.S.-proposed Middle East peace conference he so bitterly opposes.
Sharon, 63, said Wednesday on state television he would challenge Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir for the Likud bloc’s nomination for prime minister in elections scheduled for 1992.
″I will run,″ the stocky, silver-haired retired general replied coolly to a reporter’s question. Minutes earlier he had again accused the government of being weak-kneed in handling a nearly four-year Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories.
Most analysts concurred Thursday that Sharon has slim chances of unseating Shamir, who at 75 has not suggested he would step aside. But Sharon could make a good enough showing to land himself a top job in Israel’s next Cabinet, they said.
If that happened, ″the Americans also would have to reckon with him,″ wrote Hadashot’s political writer Zvi Gilat.
The newspaper’s political analyst, Hanan Crystal, predicted Sharon ″will give Shamir a good fight″ during Likud’s next party convention, scheduled for next year.
By teaming up with party allies, Sharon could come up with a 40 percent showing in the 3,500-member Central Committee - double his current party support, Crystal said in an interview.
Sharon accomplished a similar feat before the 1984 elections, even though the vote came only a year after he was ousted as defense minister over the 1982 killing of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Chatilla camps in Lebanon.
An Israeli inquiry held Sharon indirectly responsible for the slayings of hundreds of Palestinians by pro-Israeli Lebanese militiamen during the Israeli occupation of Beirut.
A catalyst in Sharon’s latest comeback, Crystal noted, was the Bush administration’s pressure on Israel to trade land for peace with the Arabs.
Added to this are the tensions lately caused by Washington’s delay in considering Israel’s request for $10 billion in housing loan guarantees to help settle Soviet Jewish immigrants.
As housing minister, Sharon has repeatedly responded to Washington’s plea to freeze settlement building in the occupied territoriea by building a new one in the West Bank, Jerusalem, or Gaza Strip.
He was the only Likud minister to vote against attending a peace conference being organized by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, warning Israel would be cornered into making concessions.
These actions have made Sharon the biggest hero of Israel’s considerable right-wing electorate, which has kept the Likud in power since 1977.
It has put Sharon in a position of strength whether or not peace talks get off the ground. ″If they explode and Israel is blamed, Sharon will be able to say, ‘I told you so,’ to the Israeli public,″ Crystal noted.
Explaining his political plans Wednesday, Sharon struck out several times at the United States, as well as at Shamir.
He said Israel’s security was at risk and added that although he believed peace could be won, everyone was going about it the wrong way.
The United States, he said, was trying to ″push Israel to the 1967 borders″ by forcing it to withdraw from the Arab territories it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
He also denounced attempts to evict Jewish settlers from the Arab village of Silwan in east Jerusalem, which they entered on Wednesday. Israelis were ″dancing to the American flute,″ Sharon said.
Sharon’s knack for sweet-talking supporters, as well as his impressive military record in the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, contribute to his public appeal.
Working against Sharon, however, is the public’s wariness of his flamboyant political style, and the lingering unpopularity of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which he masterminded.