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Labor Parties Gain First Parliamentary Majority with Mapam-labor Party Merger

The secretariat of the Israel Labor Party voted 242 to 146 yesterday to approve an alignment with Mapam, the left-wing labor party, creating for labor the first parliamentary majority in Israel’s history. The alignment gives the combined labor factions 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset (Parliament). It is not a merger, but it provides for a common list of candidates in national and local elections and in the councils of Histadrut, Israel’s powerful labor federation.

The results of the vote were hailed today by Pinhas Sapir, secretary-general of the Israel Labor Party and Israel’s former Minister of Finance who called it “very encouraging.” But Shimon Peres, leader of the former Rafi faction in the Labor Party, called the alignment a “mistake.” Rafi members were strongly opposed to the alignment, at least at this time, only a year before Israel’s next general elections. But there seemed little chance that any of them would leave the Labor Party as a result of yesterday’s vote. Gen Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Defense Minister and a Rafi leader, indicated that he did not intend to resign. Mapam leaders welcomed the decision as paving the way for a labor Government in Israel and said it would be ratified by the party next month.

The vote by the Labor Party secretariat ratified an agreement reached after months of negotiation by a specially appointed committee of the Labor Party and Mapam. The committee included Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Mr. Sapir and Mrs. Golda Meir, former secretary-general of the Labor Party, who was once Israel’s Foreign Minister. Despite the powerful political support of these veteran Labor leaders, ratification came only after hours of heated debate. The main point at issue was Mapam’s insistence on including its Arab members on the joint electoral lists as it has always done on its own lists in the past. The Labor Party has no Arab members but is affiliated with Arab parties that present separate lists to the voters. The Labor Party negotiators agreed to the Mapam demand but a faction in the secretariat demanded that Mapam adhere to the Labor Party practice. Abba Khoushi, the veteran mayor of Haifa and a power in Israeli politics for 20 years, said the Mapam Arab members should appear on the lists of the Labor Party’s Arab affiliates. His proposal was defeated however as was a proposal to postpone the effective date of the alignment until after the next general elections which are scheduled to take place in the fall of 1969.

The issue was brought up in the Knesset yesterday by Elias Nakhleh, an Arab member whose party is a Labor affiliate. He said he could not accept the idea that Arab members of Mapam would appear on the combined election lists while Arab affiliates of the Labor Party remained on separate lists.

Mapam also won points in the agreement pertaining to the Histadrut elections. It reserved the right to vote there as a separate faction on questions concerning wage policy and workers’ conditions. With an absolute majority in the Knesset, the allied labor parties could theoretically establish a labor Government, thus eliminating the coalition that has prevailed since Israel achieved independence in 1948.

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