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Israeli Cabinet Member Quits in Dispute Over Election Reform

December 25, 1991| From Reuters

JERUSALEM — Hawkish Cabinet minister Rafael Eitan, Israel's chief of staff during the 1982 Lebanon invasion, quit Tuesday in a dispute about electoral reform.

Eitan said he is resigning as agriculture minister because Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir opposed a law for direct elections of the prime ministership.

Shamir previously supported the electoral reform bill but announced his reversal at a Likud Party convention Sunday.

Eitan read his resignation letter on Army Radio.

"Because imposing party discipline on part of the coalition on the law for electoral reform constitutes a violation of the (coalition) agreement . . . Tsomet is quitting the coalition and I resign from government," he said.

Eitan heads the two-seat, extreme-right Tsomet (Crossroads) faction in Parliament. But Shamir's coalition will still have a majority of 64 in the 120-seat Parliament without him.

The 3,500-member Likud central committee overwhelmingly endorsed Shamir's opposition Monday by voting against electoral reform.

But Likud ministers were vague when asked if this meant Shamir would impose party discipline on the vote expected by the end of this month.

Eitan said he might reconsider his resignation if Shamir publicly declares that Likud Parliament members could vote according to their conscience. His resignation will take effect next week.

Shamir's bureau chief Yossi Ahimeir said the prime minister was surprised at the resignation.

"There is no justification and they don't have any reason to leave the coalition," he told Army Radio.

Eitan, who once likened Palestinians to cockroaches, is more hard-line than most ministers in Shamir's government--the most right-wing in Israel's history.

He had previously threatened to quit if the government entered negotiations on territorial concessions or self-rule for the 1.75 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel has started peace talks with Palestinians, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon whose central demand is that the Jewish state trade occupied land for peace.

Eitan was army chief of staff during the 1982 Lebanon invasion. He and then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon led the operation.

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