JERUSALEM, FEB. 3 -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir today joined forces with the most extreme right-wing party represented in the parliament, appointing former Gen. Rehavam Zeevi to the cabinet despite strong objections from ministers of his own Likud Party.
Zeevi, leader of the Moledet Party, advocates the "transfer" of Palestinians out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, an idea that until recently was considered taboo as a political issue by mainstream Israeli politicians. He also favors immediate Israeli entry into the Persian Gulf War through a military strike on Iraq.
The cabinet sought to deflect the impact of Zeevi's presence by adopting a statement today rejecting Moledet's platform for transfer. On Friday, Shamir told Israeli reporters that Likud, and not the coalition's minority partners, would determine government actions.
Meanwhile, a Jerusalem court today reduced the detention period of Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh from six months to three months. In a move widely criticized here and abroad, the government last week arrested Nusseibeh, a leading Palestinian moderate, and sentenced him without trial on unspecified charges of spying for Iraq.
Spokesmen for Shamir insisted that Zeevi's entry into the government as a minister without portfolio will not change its policies, including its decision to postpone military action against Iraq and coordinate any future operation with the United States.
Aides to the prime minister said the alliance was made for purely pragmatic reasons and would lessen Shamir's dependence on the several other small nationalist and religious parties in his coalition.
Nevertheless, several observers saw Zeevi's appointment as the latest of several recent steps by Shamir to take advantage of Israel's presently favorable political situation to prepare for the peace process following the war.
Aides say Shamir is determined to head off any move by the United States and its allies after the war to press for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
"This is a signal to Europe, the United States and the Palestinians, with an eye to the post-gulf war situation," said Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University. "The government obviously feels stronger in making its points about not giving up territory and the danger represented by the Palestinians."
Ezrahi said that with Zeevi in the cabinet, Shamir "will be able to cast himself as a moderate in the government in postwar negotiations."
Shamir's move touched off the strongest controversy within his Likud Party since he formed his latest government last June. Three senior ministers -- Foreign Minister David Levy, Health Minister Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Dan Meridor -- voted against Zeevi's appointment, while Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai and Defense Minister Moshe Arens abstained.
Political analysts here predicted that Shamir's decision would provoke a backlash from the Bush administration and American Jews, just as Israel was enjoying international support for its behavior during the war.
Said one American Jewish activist here: "This is going to backfire on Shamir. The gains he gets from strengthening his coalition are going to be far outweighed by the flak he's going to take."