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Zionist Action and Development Pinhas Sapir — One Year Later

After a year of political silence, Knesseter Pinhas Sapir recently expressed his political views by sharply criticizing the Rabin Cabinet’s policy. Speaking at a Labor Alignment faction meeting, Sapir asked: “Where are we going?” He thus hinted that the present leadership has no clear political goal.

Sapir’s address raised special interest within the Israeli political community not only because of what he said but because he has evidently decided to end his self-imposed political silence. When he began speaking at the faction meeting, Knesseters and newsmen present asked each other. “Does this mean that Sapir is returning to active politics?”

Sapir has remained a dominant personality, with potentially huge power within the Labor Party. Everyone in the political arena remembers that the former Finance Minister could have been Premier if he had wished, A year ago, when Golda Meir’s Cabinet resigned, Sapir was the undoubted strongman of the Labor Party. His numerous supporters and devotees pressed him to run for the Premiership, but he refused, His friends warned him that he would lose his political power if he accepted the Jewish Agency chairmanship. They told him that the country’s political atmosphere could turn against him personally if he quit active politics, but he held to his decision.

DEEPLY MOVED BY CASUALTIES

The widespread belief is that Sapir preferred to cease his active role in politics because he fears the huge responsibility which weighs down on the shoulders of Israel’s Premier. It is believed that Sapir does not consider himself able to cope with the cruel problems involved in running a State engaged in war or quasi-siege.

This sensitive man–who is deeply moved by every military incident that ends with casualties–did not want to take upon himself the responsibility for deciding matters involving the risk of human life. Sapir was shocked by the amount of casualties caused by the Yom Kippur War. His natural fear of the pain and bereavement that war inevitably brings was aggravated by his assessments of the likely scope and magnitude of a new war, should one break out.

GROWING REALIZATION OF CHANGE

In addition, Sapir realized that his veteran friends–Golda Meir, Haim Gvati (former Agriculture Minister) and others–were finally quitting politics. Unwilling to soldier on alone, the last representative of the “founding generation” (except for Yisrael Galili), Sapir decided to clear the way for Rabin’s generation. Over the past year, Sapir’s friends’ warnings have been in the main realized. While he devoted himself to world Jewry’s problems, staying abroad for long and frequent periods, the new Cabinet ministers naturally appeared in the focus of public attention.

Consequently, Sapir lost much of his power and influence. Gradually he realized that many of his previous friends had stopped visiting him, and that many of the issues he used to–and liked to–deal with became the interests of his successor, Gradually Sapir became aware that the new Cabinet had its own style and policy which considerably differed from those of the previous government, especially in the area of economics.

It seemed, however, that Sapir did not care. He totally immersed himself in the Jewish Agency’s problems, making tremendous efforts to increase aliya and broaden and deepen the links between Israel and world Jewry. Sapir refrained from interfering in economic policy and played only a small role in party politics. It seemed that his warm and stormy person had genuinely escaped from politics, seeking quiet satisfaction in other areas.

INTERVENING AGAIN IN POLITICS

Recently, however, this impression has changed, Sapir attempted to intervene in the discussions on the eventual establishment of a new Labor Party leadership. (He demanded that it include Abba Eban and Moshe Dayan–to which Rabin objected.) He was also directly involved in discussions among ex-Mapai leaders on how to revive Mapai as the central force in the Labor Party.

Most significantly, for the first time since the establishment of the Rabin Cabinet, Sapir has publicly criticized it. He urged the party and the government to draft an Israeli peace program, thus disagreeing with Rabin’s policy which has favored the interim arrangements.

Political observers are analyzing the significance of Sapir’s renewed intervention in politics. Does it mean that he has decided to return to the arena in order to restore his full political power? Does it mean that he intends to challenge Rabin’s Premiership? Are there connections between him and the other “outsiders”–Dayan and Eban? Sapir’s supporters reject these speculations, emphasizing that he has no personal ambition to return to power. However, this does not mean that Sapir won’t challenge Rabin’s policies should he believe they are leading the nation to war, Sapir’s supporters stress.

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