Is Peres undermining the Likud by conducting foreign policy

JERUSALEM — Is former Prime Minister Shimon Peres trying to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with some freelance diplomacy?

That's what the Netanyahu government maintains, after Peres caused a minor stir by setting up a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

To meet Peres, Arafat requested Israeli permission to fly over Israel from his Gaza Strip headquarters in a helicopter, which was initially refused; Arafat and Peres were accused of political motivations.

The denial led Arafat to cancel a meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee.

By the time Israel gave Arafat flyover approval Thursday of last week, he and Peres instead decided to meet that day in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu's communications adviser, David Bar Ilan, denied that the government had flip-flopped on issuing the permit, saying the delay had been caused by a misunderstanding.

Palestinian officials said the incident was an attempt to obstruct the peace process. Some Palestinian officials said Netanyahu personally denied the permit .

The speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, Ahmed Karia, called it a "flagrant violation" of the self-rule accords.

After meeting, Peres and Arafat told reporters their discussions focused on ways to protect the peace process. Peres said he had no desire to attack the Netanyahu government, but added, "I feel deeply obligated by every promise we made on behalf of the [previous Labor] government, on behalf of the Israeli people."

Netanyahu lashed out at Peres earlier this week, saying that the opposition leader was undermining the government by holding an unauthorized meeting with the Palestinian leader.

Labor Party officials countered that when he was leader of the opposition, Netanyahu had met with Jordan's King Hussein and with Morocco's King Hassan.

Meanwhile, Peres is scheduled to fly this week to Morocco, on what he described as a "private visit." He is expected to meet with Hassan.