JERUSALEM (Jun. 17)
Finance Minister Levi Eshkol, who has been mentioned as the probable successor to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion following the latter’s resignation yesterday, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that “the speedy formation of a government is the main task,” adding that the present moment was therefore not propitious to enter protracted negotiations about widening the present coalition.
Mapai quarters, meanwhile, confirmed that it was the intention of the party leaders to retain the present composition of the Cabinet, although some shifting will be necessary since Mr. Eshkol is not expected to keep his Treasury post if he assumes the premiership.
Pinhas Sapir, Minister of Commerce and Industry, is considered the likely successor for the Finance post, in which case a new Mapai member will be named to replace him.
The question of the Defense portfolio is not yet clear. There is some inclination to free the new Premier of the Defense post in order to enable him to devote all his time to the premiership. But the naming of a Defense Minister may raise complications. While Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres appears to be the likely contender for the post, he does not have the support of all the Mapai leadership, with some favoring Agriculture Minister Moshe Dayan.
However, since Ahdut Avoda circles have intimated that they may ask for the Defense portfolio, to avoid complications, the post may be left with the new Premier as was the case under Mr. Ben-Gurion.
Reacting to Premier Ben-Gurion’s resignation, a spokesman for Ahdut Avoda said today that “we have no choice but to respect Ben-Gurion’s wish.” A Mapam spokesman said that while his party was taken aback by the resignation, it is not sorry. A spokesman for the National Religious party expressed hope that the crisis would end quickly, adding that his party would welcome a widening of the coalition.
Elimelech Rimalt, leader of the Liberal party, declared that “if Mapai does not reinstate a stable government in the shortest possible period, it will prove that Mapai has lost the right to lead the country.” The Liberals, he said, would not join the Cabinet at the present stage.
EBAN SEES ‘DISQUIETING PROSPECT’ IN BEN-GURION’S RESIGNATION
Education Minister Abba Eban described Mr. Ben-Gurion’s resignation as a disquieting prospect with serious implications for the Jewish people as a whole. Addressing the first session of a Dialogue between American Jewish and Israeli cultural leaders sponsored by the American Jewish Congress, Mr. Eban said the withdrawal of Mr. Ben-Gurion’s leadership “commands us to move with full speed for restoration of stability.”
Mr. Ben-Gurion, he said, had a special gift for awakening and mobilizing national energies. The security of the nation and its international policies have been directed by him as an authority largely transcending party barriers and commanding a broad consensus of trust,” Mr. Eban declared. It is in the realm of security and international relations that Israel faces ordeals in the 1960′s, he pointed out.
The Histadrut daily, Davar, said in an editorial today that the resignation came as a shock accompanied by regret “as well as by the hope that it still might be possible to persuade him to change his mind.” An editorial in the independent daily, Ha’aretz, termed the resignation “the end of an era” adding that it ought to be understood also against a background of various “disappointments” in the political sphere. Declaring that Mr. Ben-Gurion could still have served the nation as Premier and Defense Minister, the paper warned, however, that once Mr. Ben-Gurion retired, the new government would be expected to go its own way and not be kind of a “shadow government.”
The Liberal daily, Haboker, found it difficult to accept Mr. Ben-Gurion’s explanation of his resignation as in accordance with “personal needs” and believed the resignation was the result of “party complications.” Haboker, as well as the National Religious party organ, Hatzofe, warned against any prolonged period of transition in view of the political and security problems facing the country.
Al-Hamishmar, organ of the Mapam party, expressed the conviction that the resignation was not solely for personal reasons, attributing it to state and internal party considerations “and several political decisions in Mapai and in the coalition that were not to his liking.” The paper stressed that, if the coalition continues along present lines even without Mr. Ben-Gurion, Mapam will not support it.
Lamerhav, the Ahdut Avoda daily, declared that “the influence of a man of Ben-Gurion’s stature does not depend on his official position and many achievements and struggles still await him.”
Joining most other editorials in expressing high praise for Mr. Ben-Gurion’s leadership, the Jerusalem Post declared: “The ultimate source of his immense, one might say legendary, prestige is his unique capacity for seeing into the future for assessing in advance problems that have scarcely yet cast their shadow ahead. To this extent, he has been for once, a prophet with honor in his country.”