JERUSALEM (Jan. 5)
Premier David Ben Gurion who has been negotiating with the same parties which formed his last coalition government to join him in a new Cabinet suddenly today presented these parties with what amounted to an ultimatum to agree to coalition by tomorrow noon or he would give up his attempt to form a new government.
Mr. Ben Gurion made it clear that if the leftists do not agree by Monday noon, he will go ahead with plans for a “small coalition” of the Mapai, Progressives and the religious group. If the Progressives, who have been hesitant about the small coalition idea, refuse to go along with a three-party government, Mr. Ben Gurion said he will report to the President failure to forma new government. In that case, it is believed, that he will recommend calling early national elections.
Mr. Ben Gurion presented his de facto ultimatum at an informal Cabinet session today which replaced the formal Cabinet meeting. There the Ministers of the five parties in the last coalition — Mapai, Mapam, Achdut Avoda, Progressives and Mizrachi-Poale Mizrachi — met to discuss the situation. Mr. Ben Gurion surprised his erstwhile colleagues by refusing to extend his deadline for formation of a new Cabinet until Tuesday when the current Mapam national convention will have concluded.
The hassle continues over Mr. Ben Gurion’s somewhat moderated, but still unacceptable demands on a program for the new Cabinet. Instead of insisting on the forced resignation of a Cabinet member who leaks information about Cabinet decisions, the Premier now calls for prosecution of newspapers which publish such “leaks” with prison sentences of three years and more. At the same time, he insists upon collective responsibility within the Cabinet.
The centrist Progressive Party opposes the Premier’s restrictive, intentions toward the press, asserting this would violate the principle of a free press. The leftists want to continue certain exemptions they have held in relations to collective responsibility.
LEFTIST GROUPS GIVE QUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE OF BEN GURION’S TERMS
When the left-wing parties found themselves unable to obtain a deadline extension, the Mapam and Achdut Avoda party representatives presented themselves to the Premier today with qualified acceptance of his terms. The qualifications were viewed as an attempt to gain further time by forcing the Premier to negotiate about the proposed platform amendments.
Basically, the leftists asked for continuation of their right to abstain if a proposal for a defense pact with the United States comes up for consideration. But they asked that this right of abstention be extended to a discussion of any military pacts. Further, they asked for the right to abstain on any votes in Knesset on “matters of conscience” where their abstentions would not allow the opposition to out-vote the government. Finally, they asked for limitation of the proposed government punishment of editors who published “leaks” from the Cabinet.
At the Mapam convention which opened in Haifa this weekend, two trends are clearly visible: one favors the party’s return to the coalition on the basis of mutual concessions, the other would not have any further dealings with the Mapai. The over-shadowing effect the Cabinet crisis on this convention — the third in the party’s history — was evident when secretary general Meir Yaari departed from plans to explain the party’s declaration of independence from international Socialist and Communist groups to devote half his opening address to criticizing Mr. Ben Gurion’s actions and the latter’s threats to form a government with the rightwing parties.
The religious parties and the Achdut Avoda were meeting in executive session tonight to draft formal replies to the Premier’s new demands. Meanwhile, all political parties turned out their leading members this week to address public rallies and explain their stand vis-a-vis the crisis. The major labor parties–Mapai, Mapam; Achdut Avoda–expressed a desire to reform the old coalition. The righ-twing General Zionists called for immediate national elections.