JERUSALEM (Feb. 28)
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion informed President Ben-Zvi today that he was unable to undertake the task of forming a new Government. After talking to the President for an hour, Mr. Ben-Gurion announced that his Mapai party would ask for the dissolution of the present Parliament and for new general elections.
Mr. Ben-Gurion’s visit to the President followed repeated soundings of the Mapai’s former coalition partners on the possibility of setting up a narrow coalition Cabinet in partnership with the National Religious party. That party rejected Mr. Ben-Gurion’s overtures, which included several concessions to religious bloc demands, because the religious party was not inclined to join without the Progressive party.
The Progressive party, along with two other former coalition parties, Mapam and Achdut Avodah, categorically refused to rejoin a Government headed by Mr. Ben-Gurion. They contended that Mr. Ben-Gurion had slurred their Ministers when he condemned a report byba Ministerial Committee last December 25 clearing Pinhas Lavon of responsibility for a 1954 security mishap when he was Minister of Defense.
Before calling on the President, Mr. Ben-Gurion attended a caucus of the Mapai party which decided against naming another leader as Premier-designate. Mr. Ben-Gurion had proposed, in a letter to several Mapai Ministers, that he would resign the party leadership so that Finance Minister Levi Eshkol could form a Government. Mr. Eshkol has been described by the Progressives, Mapam and Achdut Avodah as acceptable to them as Prime Minister.
OPPOSITION WANTS ELECTIONS IN MAY; MAPAI SUGGESTS OCTOBER
As new elections became likely, maneuvering began over the timing. The opposition parties were reported today as seeking early elections. They claimed that elections could be held within three months, before the end of May. Mapai negotiators reportedly had already started talks with partners in the outgoing coalition to obtain a majority in the Knesset for a bill suggesting that the elections be held in October.
The declared goal of Mapai was to hold new elections after the trial of Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, scheduled to begin April 11, and after the High Holy Days. It was clear that Mapai leaders hoped that the later the election, the more the voters would have the chance to forget Mr. Ben-Gurion’s battle against Pinhas Lavon, the Mapai rival forced out of his post as secretary-general of the Histadrut, Israel’s Labor Federation, by Ben-Gurion.
Mr. Ben-Gurion’s offer to resign the leadership of his party and his place as Premier to Mr. Eshkol was unanimously voted down last night at an urgent meeting of Mapai members of the Cabinet summoned in Tel Aviv by Yosef Almogi, Mapai party secretary. He called the meeting after Mr. Ben-Gurion wrote privately to several of the Ministers expressing his readiness to resign and retire to his Negev retreat at Sde Boker.
BEN-GURION EXPLAINS HIS PROPOSAL TO RESIGN IN FAVOR OF ESHKOL
At the meeting of Mapai Ministers, he explained he had been pressed by party leaders to withdraw his demand that Mr. Lavon should be excluded from the list of Mapai candidates for the next Knesset. He said he could not change his refusal against sitting with Mr. Lavon and he had therefore decided to resign and thus make it possible for Mr. Eshkol to form a new Government.
Debate on his proposal lasted until several hours past midnight. Mrs. Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, told him: "You should not present the party with threats to resign, for you know well that the party will not accept your resignation and go to the polls without you."
The decision of the Mapai Ministers to reject Mr. Ben-Gurion’s resignation proposal may be brought before the Mapai secretariat for formal ratification. The decision, in any case, was interpreted as acceptance by the Mapai leadership of Mr. Lavon’s ousting. Two of Mr. Lavon’s allies, Mayor Mordechai Namir of Tel Aviv and former Education Minister Zalman Aranne, took part in the meeting and voted to reject Mr. Ben-Gurion’s resignation offer.
The Cabinet, which evaded discussion last week of new elections, will discuss the idea at its regular meeting on Sunday.