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Labor Party Starts Internal Debate; Mrs. Meir Demanding Vote of Confidence

Premier Golda Meir is expected to demand–and get–a vote of confidence from her Labor Party’s Central Committee when it meets tomorrow in a grueling internal debate over national leadership in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. But while Mrs. Meir may easily fend off growing demands from some Labor Party quarters for a new leadership team, she may be forced to revise the hard line policy on territories and withdrawal of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and her close advisor, Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galili–which could lead to a Labor Party crisis of historic proportions, observers said today. The debate, which Mrs. Meir purposefully asked for last week in face of mounting criticism, will begin at 9 a.m. tomorrow in the Ohel Theater auditorium here and is expected to continue all day and well into the night. Most of the 600-odd members of the Central Committee are expected to participate.

The powerful “Gush” bloc of the Party, the core of the former Mapai faction, decided at a meeting here last night to support Premier Meir rather than align itself with Party doves, some of whom have demanded her resignation. A vote of confidence for Mrs. Meir is a vote for Dayan and Galili, as the Premier has made clear. The Party leadership is anxious to avoid a schism with election day little more than a month away. But there are strong elements in the Party that will seek to have its pre-war platform–the so-called Galili document on defense and foreign policy–quietly shelved and replaced by something less hard-line that will stress peace prospects. There has been talk of setting up a new drafting committee to produce a fresh policy plank with all three Labor factions–Mapai, Achdut Avodah and Rafi–sharing the authorship.

No one can say for certain whether Mrs, Meir will go along with this or whether Dayan and his supporters will agree. If not, and if the “Gush” bloc decides nevertheless to support the Party doves’ demands for policy changes, a full scale crisis seems unavoidable. Meanwhile, Dayan appears to be in serious political trouble. He has emerged as the focus of blame for the army’s state of unpreparedness when Egypt and Syria attacked on Oct. 6. Participants in the “Gush” meeting last night stressed the need for a new security platform to present to the voters Dec. 31 and urged that changes be made in the composition of the new Cabinet that will take office after the elections. While no names were mentioned, it was clear that those present considered Dayan a prime candidate for replacement.

Dayan’s resignation was demanded openly by a group of senior army reserve officers comprising the “Etgar” (Challenge) faction within the Labor Party. They said that since the Defense Minister was responsible for the preparedness of the army and security network in the first phases of the war he should draw the proper conclusions. There were some differences within the group as to whether Dayan should resign now or later. The officers adopted a resolution calling for changes in the next Cabinet and the selection of ministerial candidates before the elections. Another group of some 60 Labor Party members and supporters have signed a petition demanding Dayan’s resignation. The petition is to be made public tomorrow, Just before the Party debate opens. Some of the signatories said they would demonstrate near the meeting hall. The far-reaching Labor Party debate, unprecedented on the eve of a general election when normally the appearance of unity is maintained at all costs, was demanded by Premier Meir herself

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