JERUSALEM (Dec. 15)
Premier Levi Eshkol cited to a packed Parliament today his reasons for resigning as Premier and said he would head a caretaker Government until a new one was formed. “We will continue to safeguard the state’s vital interests, consolidating its security which were the government’s responsibility,” he pledged.
Mr. Eshkol cited to the Parliament the contents of his letter of resignation, which he handed to President Shazar last night. The Premier said he did not believe the material submitted by former Premier David Ben-Gurion justified Mr. Ben-Gurion’s demand for a new inquiry into the Pinhas Lavon Affair.
Mr. Eshkol reiterated his belief that reopening the inquiry into the circumstances of the 1954 security mishap when Mr. Lavon was Defense Minister would serve no purpose and could seriously injure Israel’s standing internally and externally.
The Premier recalled that when he was entrusted in 1961 with negotiating a new coalition under Mr. Ben-Gurion’s Premiership, he had no hint of Mr. Ben-Gurion’s intention to revive the inquiry. He said this was also true when, following Mr. Ben-Gurion’s resignation in 1963, he formed a government which was announced as one of continuity founded on the same principles and conditions as that of 1961.
Reviewing developments since October 22, when Mr. Ben-Gurion submitted to Justice Minister Dov Joseph his memorandum asking for a new inquiry into the ten-year-old controversy, Mr. Eshkol stressed that both Mr. Joseph and Attorney General Moshe Ben-Zeev expressed opposition to an inquiry, as urged by Mr. Ben-Gurion, into the findings of the 1960 Ministerial Committee which absolved Mr. Lavon of responsibility for the orders which led to the 1954 security disaster.
“Because the issue had become an object of debate among the parties and because he believed it was an issue on which the government should be free to decide, I cannot continue to bear responsibility,” he stressed in his letter of resignation made public in the Knesset.
KNESSET DEBATES ESHKOL’S RESIGNATION; BEN-GURION CRITICIZED
Originally, five opposition parties had requested a Parliamentary debate on the Government’s handling of the Lavon affair. Following the Cabinet’s resignation, the motions were withdrawn, and the opposition parties turned today instead to Knesset debate on Mr. Eshkol’s statement.
Herut opened this debate. The right-wing party sharply criticized the Attorney Genera, charging him with “overstepping his prerogatives” in giving an opinion favoring a new probe into the Lavon issue. Menahem Beigin, Herut leader, called for dissolution of the present Parliament, so that new general elections could be held.
Most speakers attacked the Ben-Gurion position on the Lavon issue. Even Moshe Dayan, who resigned as Minister of Agriculture recently, said that he was willing to accept the Justice Minister’s endorsement of a new Lavon inquiry but, at the same time, felt that Mr. Eshkol had a right to oppose that opinion without the necessity of resigning.
Both Mapam and Achdut Avodah also criticized Mr. Ben-Gurion. Achdut Avodah held that “the country must free itself from threats which would plunge it into harmful, unnecessary probings.” That party expressed the hope that Mr. Eshkol’s resignation did not signify “a retreat” on the issue, and that Mr. Eshkol would soon form a new Cabinet “along the previous lines which have been beneficial to the country.”
Former Minister of Justice Pinhas Rosen, on behalf of the Liberal Party, also criticized the Attorney General, accusing him of “unfairness.” Mr. Rosen had headed the Ministerial Committee which, in 1960, cleared Mr. Lavon. Now, he said, he saw no reason for reopening a Lavon probe.
Other speakers expressed regret over the turn of affairs, saying that the Government crisis is “bewildering” and declaring that the entire development has stirred Jewish communities abroad and “harms Israel’s cause.”