June 28, 1997 in Nation/World

Rocks And Barbs Fly In Israel Despite Clashes, Political Squabbles, Nation Holds Together For Another Week

New York Times
 

When the siren sounded at 7:11 Friday evening to usher in the Sabbath, many Israelis probably let out their breath in relief that the week had ended with a whimper.

It was an Israeli-style whimper, to be sure.

Palestinian youths hurled rocks and gasoline bombs and dodged Israeli rubber bullets on Al-Shalaleh street in Hebron most of the day. The Hebrew tabloids trumpeted an angry interview with Sara Netanyahu and a bitterly personal exchange of insults between her husband, the prime minister, and the leader of the opposition.

There was still no finance minister. And the shekel kept falling.

In other countries any one of these might have qualified as a storm. But in a land that has lived with back-to-back crises for much of the last two years, the incidents seemed almost diversions.

It was a week, after all, in which Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was supposed to collapse in a spectacular rupture of his contentious coalition, in which American and Israeli Jews were to part ways bitterly over the issue of religious conversion, and in which Palestinian anger was supposed to erupt in Gaza and Hebron.

But then a heat wave that had held the country in thrall for much of the week lifted, leaving a blanket of cool clouds, and the crisis dissipated. At least until next week.

The evening television news showed the unusual spectacle of Cabinet ministers arriving at their weekly meeting smiling. The very fact that they all showed up after weeks in which someone or other was boycotting the government, and at the end of a week in which ministers had been at each other’s throats, was in itself notable.

Even more striking were the pairings as the ministers passed the cameras on their way to the meeting, with Netanyahu walking chummily beside Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, and Infrastructures Minister Ariel Sharon with Foreign Minister David Levy.

For much of the week, Mordechai and Levy battled Netanyahu to block the appointment of Sharon, a politician known for his hawkish stance, as a member of the Cabinet team responsible for mapping out negotiating strategy with the Arabs.

That in turn delayed Sharon’s anticipated appointment to the Finance Ministry, and with it an extensive government reshuffle.

While the political leaders were having it out, Sara Netanyahu exploded in anger during the taping of a television interview in which she was asked, among other things, about her husband’s acknowledged extramarital affairs.

The tabloid Yediot Ahronot reported that Sara Netanyahu assailed the interviewer, implied that former Prime Minister Shimon Peres was not innocent of extramarital relationship, attacked Peres’ wife, Sonia, for not appearing in public as first lady and asserted that many legislators had made passes at her.

The outburst was cut from the interview, but most of it was set out in detail in the newspaper, and it is certain to be a major embarrassment to the government.


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