JERUSALEM (Feb. 19)
Prospects for formation by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion of a small coalition Government dimmed today when it became known that opposition had increased over the weekend in the National Religious party against joining the proposed coalition.
Observers predicted that when the religious party’s central committee meets again tomorrow or Tuesday, there will be a majority opposed to acceptance of Mr. Ben-Gurion’s bid. Israel has been governed by a caretaker government since Mr. Ben-Gurion resigned on January 31 in protest against Cabinet approval of a Ministerial committee’s unanimous report exonerating Pinhas Lavon of responsibility as Defense Minister for a security disaster in 1954. Mr. Lavon subsequently-was forced out of his post as Histadrut secretary general as one of the conditions Mr. Ben-Gurion set for agreeing to the task of forming a new government.
Acceptance by the religious party was the key to Mr. Ben-Gurion’s hopes of assembling a new coalition and there was no unanimity of opinion as to what would happen next if the religious party finally refused to join. The opposition General Zionists and the Herut are on record as demanding new elections. It was hinted that Mr. Ben-Gurion would not be entirely averse to new general elections but there was strong opposition to that idea even among Mr. Ben-Gurion’s strongest supporters, including Moshe Dayan, the Agriculture Minister; Giora Josephthal, the Labor Minister; and Shimon Peres, the Deputy Defense Minister.
There was speculation that if the religious party did not reject Mr. Ben-Gurion’s invitation outright, it would do no more than name a committee to negotiate the party’s demands for joining. It was assumed that the religious party would demand such concessions that liberal circles within the Mapai party would hesitate to worsen the party’s dissensions over the Lavon affair by accepting such demands.
Another complication was a hardening of attitude in the Religious Workers party, on whose support Mr. Ben-Gurion also was counting for his small coalition. The Poale Agudas Israel initially had declared that the Lavon affair was no concern of the Orthodox parties. Now, noting that the Religious party, under Moshe Shapiro’s leadership, was bargaining hard for concessions, the Religious Workers party announced its demands. These included a national Sabbath law, an anti-pig law and other requests.
The Mapai secretariat was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the new developments and the insistence of three former coalition partners–the Mapam, Achdut Avodah and the Progressives–that they would rejoin the coalition only if Mr. Ben-Gurion was not the Prime Minister. There was speculation that if Mr. Ben-Gurion was clearly unable to form a coalition, the party might choose former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett or Finance Minister Levi Eshkol to be Premier-designate, rather than face new elections.