In a pre-election face-off, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres claimed progress in his peace efforts, but Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused his rival of seeking Arab support.
Sunday's 30-minute, prerecorded debate on national television gave the public its only chance to see the two party leaders go at each other face-to-face before the Nov. 1 Parliamentary elections.Peres, head of the leftist Labor Party, seemed to benefit from the endorsement of his approach to peace talks by Jordan's King Hussein. It put Shamir, leader of the right-wing Likud Bloc, on the defensive and provided the missing ingredient to Peres' peace proposals: a possible partner.
Shamir said Peres was out of bounds in arranging for Hussein to endorse Labor's peace strategy in a U.S. television interview last week.
"I must say that to involve an Arab ruler in Israel's election campaign is crass interference. It is unprecedented," said Shamir. "The people have to reject this unequivocally."
Peres responded: "Is it a sin or an accomplishment to enlist an Arab country in the cause of peace? I wish we could enlist all countries in the cause of peace."
Peres, his voice often turning angry, vowed "to get out of this terrible circle of war and to enter into negotiations, to begin negotiations immediately after elections."
Shamir, also pledged to seek talks with the Arabs but was critical of King Hussein, alluding to the Jordanian leader's meeting over the weekend with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
"Hussein supports Arafat and the PLO today," he said. "Is this an opportunity? Is this the way to peace? Just the oppposite."
Hussein, Arafat, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt met in the Jordanian port of Aqaba on Saturday and reportedly tried to work out common ground for an international peace conference.
Shamir suggested he would take a realistic, if more difficult, road to negotiations with the Arabs.
He pledged not to "surrender to the Arabs" but seek peace based on autonomy for the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip even though this has been rejected by the Arabs. He called for the resumption of autonomy talks with Egypt, which Cairo broke off in 1981 after failing to win Palestinian support.