JERUSALEM (Jan. 7)
Coalition talks have begun in earnest between Premier Golda Meir’s Labor Party and the National Religious Party with which it hopes to form a coalition government similar to the one that existed before last week’s Knesset elections. A major obstacle, however, is the sharp division within the NRP over whether to press for a wall-to-wall national unity government that would embrace Likud.
Labor is adamantly opposed to any coalition that would include Likud, the undisputed second strongest party in the country, and Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir has informed the NRP leadership that a national government is out of the question. The NRP, for its part, is being pressed hard by its “young guard” led by Zevulun Hammer and Yehuda Ben-Meir, to honor its pre-election pledge to insist on a unity government. (See P. 3 for complete list of new Knesset members.)
Although the NRP supports the Likud position against any territorial compromise that would give up any part of the West Bank, that support seems weakest among the old party leaders who are members of Mrs. Meir’s outgoing Cabinet. But it is that element which is now the weakest within the NRP. It appears likely that Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig will have to relinquish his Cabinet seat to Dr. Yitzhak Rafael leader of the second largest faction within the NRP. The “young guard” which took third place in the party’s internal elections last year, is demanding that Hammer replace Michael Hazani who is Minister of Welfare in the outgoing government.
The NRP is also being pressed by the religious settlers of Hebron and the Golan Heights. who voted heavily for Likud in last week’s elections. The settlers professed to be disturbed by what they claim is a trend among the older NRP leadership to water down the party’s pledge against territorial compromise. “We would like to make it clear that we cannot accept this and we expect a clear cut line as to the establishment of an emergency national government which is the only guarantee… of the integrity of the land of our ancestors,” the settlers said in a statement issued yesterday.
TALKS ON WITH OTHER PARTIES
Labor, meanwhile, has also approached the Aguda-Poalei Aguda religious bloc which has indicated readiness to join a coalition government despite the bitter opposition of its senior rabbinic authority, Rabbi Israel Alter, the “Gerrer Rebbe.” The Aguda bloc, though more extreme than the NRP in its demands for religious control of the nation’s life, is said to be more amenable to territorial compromise.
Sapir, who appears to be his party’s chief negotiator in coalition talks, reportedly will try to persuade the Gerrer Rebbe to relent on joining a Labor-led government. But informed sources within the Aguda bloc told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that chances were slim and that there was no chance at all of the Aguda joining without the NRP.
Negotiations have been reported between the NRP and Aguda for a religious common front. NRP officials are also reported to have met with Likud leaders Menachem Beigin and Gen. Ariel Sharon on the issue of a national unity government. Beigin on his part, has divested himself of one of the several posts he holds in the Herut wing of Likud. He has designated MK Chaim Landau chairman of the Herut Executive, a post Beigin took over after a bitter internal battle with Gen. Ezer Weizman last year which culminated in Weizman’s resignation. Beigin still holds the posts of party leader and chairman of the party’s central committee.
Sharon, who now has a Knesset seat as a result of the strong Likud showing in the elections, said today that he intends to remain in the army as long as he is needed. He said he would attend the swearing in ceremonies of the new Knesset Jan. 21 but would return immediately to his command on the west bank of the Suez Canal.