JERUSALEM (Sep. 6)
President Ben-Zvi today completed his round of talks with representatives of Israel’s political parties and asked Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to undertake the task of forming a new Government.
The President met yesterday with leaders of Mapai, Herut, the Liberals, Mapam, Achdut Avodah and the religious group. He expressed a wish for a prompt formation of a new Cabinet and thus end the current caretaker Government now in its seventh month.
Parallel with the presidential consultations, a Mapai committee headed by Finance Minister Levi Eshkol began talks with other parties for a coalition headed by Mr. Ben-Gurion. Three of the Mapai party’s partners in the outgoing coalition–the Liberals, Mapam and Achdut Avodah–went on record as favoring a reconstitution of the former coalition, together with the National Religious party but with the condition that Mapai forego a majority in any new government.
Pointing to Mapai’s loss of six seats in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, in the August 15 election, the three parties argued for proportional representation in the distribution of Cabinet portfolios. Mapai lost five seats in the voting and one seat resulting from the loss of an Arab affiliate list.
The National Religious party told the Mapai negotiators that it would not insist on Mapai yielding its customary majority in a new Cabinet, but that it favored widening the coalition to include Herut as well as the ultra-Orthodox Agudas Israel. Herut has never been represented in an Israel Cabinet.
It was generally believed that Mapai would refuse to yield on its demand for a Cabinet majority and instead would prefer to take the risk of a narrow coalition to include all the religious parties. This arrangement would add four seats from Mapai’s Arab affiliates, 12 from the National Religious Party, four from Agudas Israel, and two from Poale Agudas Israel, the Orthodox labor party, to Mapai’s 42 seats for a slender majority of 64 of the Parliament’s 120 seats.
Agudas Israel, which fell short 94 ballots from a fifth seat, gave notice meanwhile that it would challenge the results at two polling places, one in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem. Party officials charged that “irregularities” in Tel Aviv deprived them of a fifth seat which went to the Liberals and they demanded a recount of the Jerusalem polling station results which were invalidated on a technicality by the Central Election Committee.
Since the party’s strength is greatest in Jerusalem, a successful appeal on either challenge would make the united religious bloc a more potent factor in any considerations of a narrow coalition. The appeal will be brought before the Knesset which is the only body authorized to act in ballot disputes. If a Knesset majority sustains the appeal and if the disputed ballots actually turn out to be for the Agudas Israel, the Liberals will lose one of their 17 seats.