Is Gahal Breaking Up? Herut-liberal Rift Widens over Electoral Reform Bill

The fate of the Gahal alignment, Israel’s largest opposition party, continued to hang in the balance as the partners–Herut and the Liberals–exchanged charges and counter charges during the week-end over Liberal support for a Labor-sponsored electoral reform bill. Herut, which is bitterly opposed to the measure, has accused the Liberals of reneging on a pledge not to support it. The Liberals, whose votes in the Knesset helped Labor eke out a bare majority of 61 votes to put the bill over the hurdle of its first reading, insisted that they had never made such a pledge. If finally adopted, the electoral reform would not go into effect until the 1977 elections.

Political observers here seemed today to feel that dissolution of Gahal was near and that it was up to the leaders of Herut to avoid such an event. One strong section of Herut, headed by Knesset-member Yochanan Bader, has in fact urged a break-up of the alliance forthwith. Gen. Ezer Weizman, chairman of the Herut Party Executive, expressed hope however that despite the tense atmosphere, the partnership can survive. A similar hope was expressed by Simha Ehrlich, leader of the Liberal wing, who predicted contacts between the two factions soon to “thaw the icy atmosphere” that has developed between them. The Liberals claim that Gahal’s fate depends on Herut chief Menachem Beigin who, they say, holds the key to the situation and can alone pave the way for a renewed understanding. Beigin however, castigated the Liberals in an article appearing in the week-end edition of the newspaper Maariv.

The electoral reform bill would institute a system combining direct elections to the Knesset by constituencies with the present national system in which voters cast ballots for party slates. The measure is opposed by Herut, the National Religious Party and most of the smaller factions which stand to lose seats or disappear altogether under a system in which the majority of MKs would be elected directly by their constituencies. Herut has charged that reform bill is merely a device by the Labor Alignment to obtain an “artificial” majority in the Knesset. Beigin has indicated that the crisis within Gahal can be resolved if the Liberals renounce their support of the measure. The Liberals insist however, that the proposed reform paves the way for true democratic government with a viable opposition. The Liberal leaders say their party has always favored electoral reform and that Herut was perfectly aware of their position when the Gahal alignment was formed in the 1960s.

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