Eshkol Gets More Time to Form Coalition; Religious Dispute Goes on

President Zalman Shazar this weekend granted to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol a two-week extension, to January 9, of his original mandate to form a new Government. Israel must have a new Cabinet as a result of the elections last month in which the Mapai-Achdut Avoda alignment won a plurality of 45 of the 120 seats in the Knesset (Parliament). The original mandate expired today. Under Israeli law, the mandate cannot be extended beyond the new deadline. The present Cabinet forms a caretaker Government.

The main obstacle to Mr. Eshkol’s efforts to form a broad coalition continues to be the insistence by the National Religious Party that Israel’s newly built port at Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, shut down all operations on Saturdays. Mr. Eshkol insists that permits to operate the Ashdod facilities on the Sabbath be ruled on by the Ministerial Committee, as is the case with Israel’s other ports.

Without the National Religious Party and the Poalei Agudat Israel, which were part of the outgcing coalition, Mr. Eshkol could form only a very narrow coalition comprising, in addition to the alignment, the Independent Liberals, Mapam and the Mapai-affiliated Arab lists. This coalition would have only a slim majority in the current Knesset.

The Mapai Secretariat authorized Mr. Eshkol to go ahead with a new coalition without the religious parties if the latter continue to insist on conditions unacceptable to the Premier. The Secretariat also urged the Premier to present a new Government next week.

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