TEL AVIV (Dec. 8)
Premier Golda Meir won a personal vote of confidence from her Labor Party after two days of exhausting debate on defense and foreign policy that ended early this morning. But she failed to get the Party to take a decisive position on the major issues that divide it.
Her failure saved the Party from a possibly fatal split on the eve of national elections but left the voters as much in the dark as ever as to where Labor stands on fateful questions of national policy. Mrs. Meir had demanded the unprecedented pre-election debate by the Labor Party’s 601-member Central Committee for the specific purpose of clarifying its positions for the electorate. The debate, begun last week, was interrupted by the death and funeral of former Premier David Ben Gurion. It was resumed Tuesday. The Premier told her colleagues that if it were not for the imminence of the elections, she would have resigned long before now and called for a new election.
In a secret ballot taken hours after midnight, the Central Committee voted 291-33 in favor of Mrs. Meir’s continued leadership of the Party. There were 15 abstentions. Many members of the Central Committee were absent, either because they didn’t want to vote or were too exhausted to stay. The vote came a half hour after Party Secretary General Aharon Yadlin, openly guided and prompted by Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, avoided a head-on collision between hawks and doves. The Central Committee had accepted a vaguely worded, relatively moderate 14-point policy statement drafted a week ago by the Party leadership–including both hard liners and moderates. But those two elements differed-sharply over whether the new statement superseded or merely supplemented the Labor Party’s tough “oral platform” and the platform plank authored by Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galili and adopted months ago at the insistence of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
The Galili document contained a specific program for Jewish settlement and investment in the administered Arab territories captured in the 1967 war. The new document was less specific and more moderate on that issue. The 14-point program was to come up for a vote at about 1 a.m. when former Labor Party Secretary General Lyova Eliav, an outspoken dove, introduced a 15th point which stated categorically that the Galili document was annulled. Eliav and other doves and moderates maintained that post-Yom Kippur War conditions and realities made it “irrelevant.” The hawks insisted that the Galili program was still a basic Party tenet, conceding, however, that there was no money in the Treasury at present to implement it.”
Sapir, the Party strongman and himself a moderate, took that line. “I do not see us building a deep water port at Yamit (a Dayan project), spending millions on refugee rehabilitation, or investing heavily in industry in the territories because Israel’s own needs are infinitely more important,” he said, adding, “doesn’t that mean that the Galili document in effect is abrogated?” To that, Mrs. Meir replied in the negative and Galili took the rostrum to say he stood by his program and that it would be implemented when the necessary resources were available. The doves disagreed, but Sapir and other moderates of the Tel Aviv-based “Gush” bloc persuaded Eliav to withdraw his 15th point in order to avert an intra-party crisis. To that Mrs. Meir objected vehemently. “The Party must speak to the electorate in clear language,” she said. “This issue is the essence of all the disputes on defense policy and there must be a clear cut decision,” she declared.
Dayan took the floor to propose an amendment stating that the new platform neither confirmed nor abrogated the Party’s previous platform. Sapir refused to accept this. Pandemonium broke out in the meeting hall. At that point Mrs. Meir yielded, apparently sensing that she was forcing a Party split and that the split might not go her way. The vote of confidence in Mrs. Meir’s leadership was taken and everyone, anxious to go home, promised to say no more about the platform but simply unite around-it on election day. Much earlier in the debate, Mrs. Meir clashed openly with Deputy Premier Yigal Allon when he urged her to announce, in advance of elections, the composition of her new Cabinet which in effect was a demand for changes in view of the lack of confidence widely felt toward certain members of the present government. Mrs. Meir, rejecting this out of hand, said it was never the practice to select a government before elections.