JERUSALEM (Dec. 2)
Premier Golda Meir, who appeared to have firm control of political events only two months ago, is in serious difficulties in her attempts to form a new national coalition government that will include all of the country’s major political factions. Mrs. Meir asked for and received from President Zalman Shazar last Sunday a ten-day extension in which to accomplish the government-building task that she failed to complete during the first 21 days of her mandate.
Under Israeli law, she will be entitled to a final 11-day period after the present extension expires. But the idea of requesting more time is said to be personally distasteful to the 71 year-old Premier. Some political observers say she will not ask for another extension but will either relinquish her mandate if she fails to form a broadly based government or try to set up a coalition between her Labor Alignment and one of the minor parties, probably the Independent Liberals.
Such a coalition would be a fragile one, especially at a time when Israel faces a worsening Middle East situation and many serious problems on the home front. Therefore Mrs. Meir has been trying desperately to form a coalition that will include Gahal (Herut-Liberal Alignment) the nation’s second largest political party, and the National Religious Party which ran third in the Oct. 28 Knesset elections.
Originally Mrs. Meir left the hard bargaining to an inter-party committee headed by Minister of Justice Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro. The committee made progress as long as general issues were discussed. But when it came to the crucial question of allocating portfolios among the coalition partners, the bargaining collapsed. Mrs. Meir has since taken a personal role in the negotiations but without noticeable success.
GAHAL, NRP DEMANDS, MAPAM STAND, BLOCK AGREEMENT ON CABINET COMPOSITION
She is faced with two problems. The leftist Mapam, junior partner in the Labor Party Alignment, refuses to join a coalition in which the rightist, hard-line Gahal has more influence and holds more ministerial posts than it did in the outgoing National Unity Government. Gahal has demanded six cabinet posts with at least five ministerial portfolios. The National Religious Party has demanded the Ministry of Education or, at least the appointment of an NRP member as deputy minister of education. The Labor Party is not prepared to name a deputy minister without the approval of the incumbent and probable future Minister of Education, Zalman Aranne. Mr. Aranne made it clear this week that he will not tolerate the appointment of a deputy with special powers over his head, as the Religious party demands. The latter reportedly agreed to a compromise in the form of a promise that the separation of Israel’s state-supported school system between general and religious schools will be extended from the primary to the secondary grades. The inter-party committee could not reach agreement on this either and left the decision up to Mrs. Meir.
If the NRP is not included in the new government, Gahal too will refuse to join. Gahal leaders say that the situation is too serious for one of the three major parties to be left outside of the government.