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Coalition Government on Verge of Breakup; Gahal Decides to Resign if U.S. Plan Accepted

The national unity government neared an end last night after 38 months’ duration as the Gahal Knesset faction decided after a six-and-a-half-hour session to quit the government if the cabinet were to approve the United States peace plan tonight. The rightist Gahal faction, which holds six of the 24 cabinet Ministries and opposes concessions on occupied Arab territories, said a cabinet approval of the U.S. initiative, which calls for withdrawal from controlled areas, would automatically lead to their break from the coalition. The Labor Alignment leaders–including Premier Golda Meir, Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan–favor acceptance of the U.S. initiative, despite doubts about its efficacy. The Meir government controls 18 of the 24 cabinet seats, but Mrs. Meir has urgently pressed for unanimity.

The Gahal Knesset faction voted 14-9 for a walkout. The majority was comprised of the Herut section of Gahal and one Liberal, Zvi Zimerman of Haifa. Two Herut members–Ezer Weizman. Minister of Transportation and Communications, and Moshe Binyamin Nissim, a Liberal MK–abstained. Mr. Weizman and Liberal Aryeh L. Dultzin, Minister-Without-Portfolio, are not MKs. Two Liberal MKs. Yosef Serlin and Avraham Katz, were out of the country. Gahal also rejected a proposal by Pinhas Sapir, Laborite Minister of Finance, to remain in the cabinet while opposing the U.S. plan. The Gahal Center (Executive) was to ratify the Knesset faction’s decision later tonight or tomorrow morning. Premier Meir, expressing regret over the decision, said she hoped the Gahal Center would not endorse it. The government convened here this evening with the Gahal decision already known. Menachem Beigin, the 56-year-old co-founder and leader of Herut. said his opposition to the U.S. Initiative was not exaggerated. He said acceptance of it by Israel would be “a catastrophe.” Prior to the Gahal vote, sources close to the faction had warned that “only a miracle could save the coalition, formed under fire on June 5, 1967, the day the Six-Day War erupted.

NRP IN STATE OF STORM; EBAN SAYS U.S. INITIATIVE EMPHASIZES NEGOTIATION

Gahal Ministers themselves had said earlier in the evening that optimism over the continuation of the coalition was unfounded. Two-and-a-quarter hours of pleas by four Labor Ministers yesterday failed to budge Gahal, which also ignored Mrs. Meir’s unprecedented concession offer–the right to abstain on the vote by the entire Knesset in return for its promise not to bolt the cabinet and not to oppose the government on any vote of confidence. One informed source said that a Herut-Liberal split is not expected. He noted that Minister Dultzin has said. “We went in together and we shall go out together.” But another high-level informant said a Gahal walkout would very likely lead to interactional ferment and eventually to a split. Meanwhile, the National Religious Party, which holds three cabinet seats and 12 Knesset seats (one of each vacated by the death of Interior Minister Haim Moshe Shapiro), was in a state of storm. A number of NRP factions demanded that the party’s Ministers–Yosef Burg, Social Welfare, and Zerah Warhaftig, Religious Affairs–adopt a position closer to that of Gahal. The Independent Liberals, who hold four Knesset seats and have urged Gahal not to precipitate a cabinet crisis, had an urgent meeting scheduled for tonight. Agudat Israel, also with four Knesset seats, has been urging Gahal not to make the break.

The Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction, which also met today, empowered the Alignment–composed of Premier Meir and 12 Ministers, with one Ministry vacant–to vote in accordance with the Labor platform, governmental statements and the government’s responsibility for Israel’s security, well-being and peace. The Knesset group praised the government for its efforts to persuade Gahal not to split the coalition with the understanding that its continued participation would not impair the government’s peace-seeking activities. Foreign Minister Abba Eban contended that the U.S. initiative emphasizes negotiation rather than withdrawal. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned today that a temporary cease-fire, if accepted, would not take effect immediately but only after all necessary steps have been taken to prevent military buildups during the proposed three-month-or more shooting halt. State Department officials, it was understood, have emphasized that to Israeli representatives in Washington. Concurrently, the expansionist “Greater Israel” movement has initiated a campaign to arouse public opinion against the U.S. proposals, warning that a temporary cease-fire is a danger to Israel’s security.

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