JERUSALEM (Dec. 28)
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion threatened today to relinquish leadership of the Mapai party, and retire to his Sde Boker retreat in the Negev, in a new flare-up of his dispute with Pinhas Lavon, secretary-general of Histadrut, Israel’s Federation of Labor.
The possibility arose after a meeting last night of Mapai members of the Cabinet, at which an inconclusive effort was made to avert a grave party rift on the issue. The Prime Minister insisted he was determined to reach a “showdown” with Lavon in the long-standing quarrel between the two Mapai leaders, stemming from the 1954 security mishap which led to Lavon’s forced resignation as Israel Minister of Defense in 1955.
Lavon was cleared of responsibility for the order which brought about the mishap by a seven-man Ministerial Committee, which reported its findings at the Cabinet meeting last Sunday. The committee declared that a senior army officer had forged a document to make Lavon appear responsible. The Cabinet approved the report with three Mapai Ministers, as well as the Prime Minister, abstaining in the vote. The three were: Minister of Education Abba Eban, Minister of Agriculture Moshe Dayan and Minister of Labor Giora Josephtal.
(The Associated Press reported today that Israel’s Foreign Minister, Mrs. Golda Meir, walked out of the Cabined reading “in fury” at Ben-Gurion’s stand and drew up a letter of resignation. Finance Minister Levi Eshkol has for two days been trying to soothe her, and he was reported today to have succeeded, the AP said.)
Reportedly declaring that he would not sit at the same table with Lavon, the Prime Minister indicated he planned to take a four or five-week holiday immediately after the 25th World Zionist Congress, which will conclude on January 10, and that he might not return until the Mapai central bodies take a final stand on the dispute.
The Prime Minister’s reported “Lavon or me” attitude was seen as certain to force a showdown between Lavon’s supporters and those of the Prime Minister. He former were believed to include Mapai members sympathetic to other Government numbers forced to resign with Lavon in 1955. The backers of the Prime Minister were Miler-stood to include a small neutral group, whose members believe that preservation of the party demands deferment of action for the time being on the broiling leadership dispute.