JERUSALEM (Feb. 16)
President Ben-Zvi formally requested Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion tonight to form a new Government. Mr. Ben-Gurion, awaiting the results of his bid to the National Religious Party, replied with a request that the President give him a few days time to determine whether he could accept the mandate.
The uncertainty as to whether the National Religious Party would accept the bid to join a new Mapai-dominated Cabinet had clearly upset Mr. Ben-Gurion’s original schedule under which he had wanted to give the President his final answer by Sunday.
The executive of the Religious Party was scheduled to meet tonight, -but it was known that the executive would not make a definite decision to accept Mr. Ben-Gurion’s offer, which included one more Cabinet portfolio than the two held in the Government Mr. Ben-Gurion dissolved with his January 31 resignation. A final decision was expected to be taken at a meeting of the Religious Party’s Actions Committee next week.
One of the reasons for the offer of the three Cabinet portfolios was that with Religious Party participation, Mr. Ben-Gurion could put together a coalition, even though one with a slender majority, and thus stave off new general elections.
Justice Minister Pinhas Rosen of the Progressive party, who had announced earlier that neither he nor his party would join a new coalition if Mr. Ben-Gurion was Prime Minister, sent a letter today to Moshe Shapiro, the leader of the Religious Party, recommending that the latter join the proposed coalition in order to avoid new elections.
MAPAI CONSIDERS ESHKOL OR SHARETT FOR POSSIBLE CANDIDATES
Mapai circles indicated today that if the religious bloc refused to join the coalition, Mr. Ben-Gurion’s efforts to create a new Government would be rendered impossible. Such an eventuality would strengthen the drive of several parties, including the General Zionists and the right-wing Herut, for new general elections. Another factor complicating the efforts to create a new Government is the refusal of two other former coalition partners, the left-wing Mapam and Achdut Avodah, to join a coalition if Mr. Ben-Gurion was the Prime Minister.
The Mapai sources suggested that if a deadlock developed in negotiations with the religious bloc, it was possible that the party would choose Finance Minister Levi Eshkol or former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett as the party selection for Premier-designate. This idea, it was indicated, was being considered as a means of avoiding new elections.
There are indications that Mapai’s chances in new elections would be weakened by the aftermath of the ouster of Mapai leader Pinhas Lavon as secretary-general of the Histadrut, Israel’s Federation of labor. Evidence that such Mapai fears were justified developed in a poll of voters by the independent daily, Haaretz, on whether new general elections should be held.
The poll showed that Israeli public opinion was almost evenly split on the question– 45 percent opposing new elections, 42 percent favoring elections and the rest undecided. The poll was undertaken to determine the impact of the Ben-Gurion–Lavon fight on the electorate in view of the possibility that the Prime Minister might be unable to form his hoped-for small coalition and thus make elections necessary.
The poll also found that 14 percent of those questioned said that in a new election they would vote differently than they did at the last election in November, 1959. The poll’s other findings seemed to indicate that the majority of those who said they would vote differently had voted for Mapai in 1959 when that party received more than 38 percent of the total vote and 47 seats in Israel’s Parliament.
If the poll findings accurately reflected voter moods, then Mapai would lose a minimum of seven seats and possibly ten, it was indicated.
Replies to another question revealed that 37 percent of the respondents had changed their opinion of Mr. Ben-Gurion because of his fight against Mr. Lavon and it was clear from the answers that the change was for the worse. Observers agreed that the poll findings would increase the reluctance of Mapai to go to the voters for a new popular mandate.