TEL AVIV (Sep. 26)
The much-discussed and much-negotiated plan for a merger into one powerful party of Israel’s three labor parties collided today with the determined opposition of former Premier David Ben-Gurion to a union under existing Mapai leadership.
Negotiations to merge Premier Levi Eshkol’s Mapai. Achdut Avodah and the National Workers Party (Rafi) have repeatedly reached the stage of final decision, only to run into new difficulties. Mr. Ben-Gurion, who formed Rafi as a challenge to Mr. Eshkol’s national and party leadership, had indicated previously he would not support the merger but that he also would not oppose it. In the latest development, the old warrior said he could not accept merger as long as the present Mapai leadership was in power.
Rafi officials decided to postpone for a few days a meeting scheduled for tonight which was to have taken a “decisive” vote for the merger, which would create a single labor party with 59 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. Shimon Peres, Rafi secretary-general, and Yosef Almogi, another Rafi leader, made a special trip yesterday to Mr. Ben-Gurion’s Negev retreat at Sde Boker to plead with him to go along on the merger but the pleas failed.
Another new barrier was a letter of “clarification” sent by Mapai to Rafi. Mapai officials said that the new Parliament, the seventh, which would follow the proposed merger, would have the same proportional seating of the three labor parties as within the proposed merger party. This would mean that the former parties would maintain the 36 to 10 to nine ratio of Mapai, Rafi and Achdut respectively, in the present Knesset, a proposal certain to jar some Rafi leaders. This new problem, as well as Mr. Ben-Gurion’s stand, may lead Rafi to a reconsideration of the merger.