JERUSALEM (Mar. 3)
After weeks of exhausting effort, Premier Golda Meir told her Labor Party today that she would return her mandate to President Ephraim Katzir because she could not form a government to her satisfaction. Labor’s top leadership had met all day in the Knesset to decide on a new Cabinet slate following a decision by the eight-member Rafi faction, led by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, not to take part in the proposed minority government. The Rafi faction decided last night to stand for a unity government, which would include the opposition Likud. Dayan had suggested that Rafi members decline to serve in a narrow government if Mrs. Meir insisted on forming one but that Rafi would nevertheless support such a government in the Knesset. Mrs. Meir reportedly felt that a minority government on such a base would have no real support in the Knesset or in the nation.
Forty minutes after she left the Labor meeting, Mrs. Meir telephoned Katzir to tell him informally of her decision and to set an appointment for tomorrow afternoon to return the mandate formally. Meanwhile, Aharon Yadlin, the Labor Party secretary general, led an all-faction delegation to Mrs. Meir’s home to plead with her not to give up her mandate. Dayan met with Katzir yesterday afternoon to discuss with him the possibility of creating a national unity government. Katzir is known to privately favor such a government but he reportedly told Dayan that, having given a mandate to Mrs. Meir, he had no constitutional authority to intervene. Mrs. Meir’s announcement came following a protracted meeting of the Labor Party leadership in the Knesset which had been due to approve her Cabinet slate. Last Wednesday Katzir granted the Premier an additional seven days to form her new Cabinet.
During today’s party leadership meeting Mrs. Meir presented a strangely shrunken list–with six vacant ministries out of nineteen. The three National Religious Party fiefdoms–Interior, Welfare and Religion–were to be left open in the hope that the NRP would yet join. A new Information Ministry would be left empty along with Transport and Labor for Rafi–if it recanted–to pick two of them, the third going to Labor’s Jerusalem strongman and Knesset faction chairman Moshe Baram. Mrs. Meir proposed Yitzhak Rabin as Defense Minister; Haim Zadok, Justice Minister; Yehoshua Rabinowitz, Housing Minister; Aharon Uzan, the Moshav leader, as Communications Minister; and the rest of the portfolios more-or-less the same. Gideon Hausner was proposed as Minister-Without-Portfolio, Joining Israel Galili in that role.
After Mrs. Meir left the Labor meeting red-eyed and in obviously high dudgeon, the Laborites recovered their wits enough to approve by majority the slate the Premier had presented. No one voted against it–but 11 important members abstained. They included Shimon Peres, Gad Yaacobi, Mordechai Ben-Porat and other Rafi members, as well as Labor Minister and Haifa Mayor Yosef Amogi who also favors a unity government. Dayan was almost alone among Rafi members to vote for the slate. Mrs. Meir was said to be particularly stung at the meeting by criticism from the ultra-doves, especially Yitzhak Ben-Aharon and Arye Eliav. On the other extreme of the Labor spectrum, the Rafi members did not hide their preference for a unity government and their view that were it not for Dayan’s personal loyalty to Mrs. Meir, he would lead them to vote against a minority government.
Dayan’s meeting yesterday with Katzir was arranged by four public figures who had urged both of them–at separate meetings before the weekend–to act within their respective spheres to form a national unity government. The four were Prof. Yuval Neeman, president of Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute physicists Yisrael Dostrovsky and Yigal Talmi, and former Air Force Chief Dan Tolkowsky. Their persuasiveness is believed to have influenced Dayan towards the final position he adopted at the Rafi meeting last night when he spoke openly in favor of a unity government and said Rafi must fight for one. But he said, too, that Rafi must not at this time force a split in the party–and the way to avoid this was to support a narrow government if Mrs. Meir went ahead and presented one. All the speculation tonight centered on what Katzir would now do, and to whom he would give the mandate if Mrs. Meir returned it to him.