Pressure Mounts for Unity Government

Pressure on Premier Yitzhak Rabin to form a national unity government mounted over the weekend both from within and outside his coalition. It has reached a point, many observers believe, where the Premier will have no choice but to acquiesce.

Information Minister Aharon Yariv publicly declared himself in favor of such a move in a radio interview yesterday. Tourism Minister Moshe Kol reportedly has requested a formal meeting between the leadership of his Independent Liberal Party and the Labor Party Leadership on the issue. The ILP, Rabin’s original coalition partner, voted 57-30 in favor of a national unity government at a meeting of its Central Committee in Tel Aviv Thursday night.

The renewed pressure for a government that will embrace all factions, including the militant Likud opposition, also seems to enjoy growing popular support. It stems from recent developments–the Rabat summit meeting and subsequent “legitimization” of the Palestine Liberation Organization by the UN; the severe new economic measures instituted by the government; and the disclosure of major scandals involving government-owned or controlled corporations. The bleak political outlook for Israel and the economic debacle have shaken confidence in the Labor Party’s ability to govern alone.

LABOR PARTY MINISTERS DIVIDED

Labor Party Cabinet ministers appear to be evenly divided on the issue. In addition to Yariv, Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi, both of the former Rafi faction, and Police Minister Shlomo Hillel strongly favor a wall-to-wall coalition. Housing Minister Avraham Ofer and Justice Minister Haim Zadok are opposed. The views of Israel Galili, Minister-Without-Portfolio, who was a power behind the scenes in the government of former Premier Golda Meir, are not yet clear.

It is not known whether Galili exerts as much influence on Rabin as he did on his predecessor. The strongest opposition to a government embracing Likud comes from Mapam and from-Labor MK Yossi Sarid, who is a close associate of former Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir. Sapir, who resigned from the government to become chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, is still regarded the political “strong man” within the Labor Party leadership.

Rabin himself has taken no stand one way or another on a unity government. On several occasions he has expressed his “non-opposition” to such a regime. But he is aware of the obstacles. He does not want to precipitate a Mapam defection, especially because he needs Mapam influence in Histadrut to support the government’s unpopular economic measures.

UNITED FRONT IN CASE OF WAR

Many observers believe Likud may safely be brought into the government now that the potentially divisive issue of negotiations with Jordan on the future of the West Bank is in abeyance. The emergence of the PLO has rendered such negotiations more remote than ever. Moreover, the observers note, the Rabin government is pledged in any event to call new elections to ratify any settlement that may eventually come up over the West Bank.

An additional argument for creating a unity government is the increased likelihood of a Middle East war and the need for a united front of all political factions in such an event. Israel’s last unity government was established by the late Premier Levi Eshkol on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War. It foundered in 1970 when Israel agreed to a standstill cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone to end the war of attrition with Egypt.

Proponents of a unity government also say that it would strengthen Israel’s hand against international pressure for territorial and political concessions. Opponents claim, on the other hand, that a government which included Likud would paralyze Israel at the negotiating table, increase its political isolation and irritate Israel’s relations with the U.S. Likud has been adamant against any territorial concessions and backs the National Religious Party demands to open the West Bank to unrestricted Jewish settlement. Most members of the present coalition, except for the NRP, concede that some territorial concessions are inevitable in the interests of a peace settlement.

Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Liberal Party, a constituent of Likud, warned last week that Rabin would have no choice but to yield to the mounting pressure. He contended that the present government lacks the political and moral basis to act because it was elected at a time when peace hopes were increasing whereas now the possibility is for a new war.

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