TEL AVIV (Mar. 4)
Leaders of the Israel Labor Party plunged into negotiations with their partners in the national unity coalition today in an effort to persuade them to accept the leadership of Mrs. Golda Meir whom they nominated last night to succeed the late Levi Eshkol as Israel’s Prime Minister. The vote for Mrs. Meir, who will be 71 in May, was 40-0 with seven abstentions. Endorsement of her by the Labor Party’s central committee next Sunday appeared a virtual certainty. Mrs. Meir said she would announce in a few days whether she would accept the nomination but remarked pointedly that she had never in the past failed to heed a party call. Observers here said Mrs. Meir was withholding her final acceptance until her supporters could determine the extent of the backing she would receive from the other coalition partners.
The most important of these is Gahal, the Herut-Liberal Party alignment, which is the second largest party in the coalition put together by Mr. Eshkol during the crisis of May, 1967. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, a key figure in the Cabinet, said his participation in a government headed by Mrs. Meir was conditional on its inclusion of Gahal. Acting Prime Minister Yigal Allon and Pinhas Sapir, secretary-general of the Labor Party and Mrs. Meir’s strongest supporter, were conferring today with Gahal leaders Menachem Beigin and Joseph Saphir, both of whom are Ministers-Without-Portfolio. They were joined by the Gahal Knesset (Parliament) leaders Yohanan Bader and Elegiacal Rimae in a meeting that was regarded as crucial to the Premiership of Mrs. Meir. Other meetings are scheduled with leaders of Mapam which recently aligned itself with the Labor Party, the Independent Liberals, the National Religious Party and the Poalei Agudat Israel. All indications were that these parties would accept Mrs. Meir in the interests of national unity.
Mrs. Meir would head an interim government until the October 28 national elections. Her candidacy was urgently supported by Labor Party leaders to avert a show-down struggle between the two men considered the most serious contenders for the Premiership, Gen. Dayan and Mr. Allon. Mrs. Meir declared that her choice was Mr. Allon who was made Deputy Prime Minister by Mr. Eshkol last year and was widely regarded as his heir apparent. Gen. Dayan, considered to be the most popular public figure in Israel today, lacks political backing among the Labor Party leadership and its rank and file.
Gen. Dayan abstained in the vote on Mrs. Meir last night because, he declared, “I see no point in a negative vote under existing conditions.” He acknowledged the right of the party’s central committee to decide and said he would accept its decision, although he did not support any of the candidates mentioned. “But I do not disqualify Golda or Allon from the Premiership,” he said. Gen. Dayan, however, made no secret of his bitterness over the party’s negative attitude toward him. “I have not felt at home in the party. I feel on its fringes,” he said, adding, “As far as I am concerned, it is not too late to make a new start.” He chided the party leadership which he claimed considered all cabinet members representatives of the party, “apart from Moshe Dayan who, I am told, is the representative of the street and the choice of the Merry Wives of Windsor.” Gen. Dayan’s reference was to the petitions signed on street corners and the demonstrations by women on the eve of the Six-Day War demanding his inclusion in the Government. Gen. Dayan’s appointment as Defense Minister was a response to popular demand during the May, 1967 crisis. It was vigorously opposed at the time by Mrs. Meir. Nevertheless, it is believed that she would invite him to participate in a government under her leadership. The Labor Party central committee is scheduled to meet Friday and by next Sunday it is expected to submit the name of Mrs. Meir to President Zalman Shazar as Prime Minister-designate.