JERUSALEM (Dec. 19)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin abruptly dismissed the National Religious Party from his Cabinet this morning and opened the way for early elections should his government be forced to resign. The Rabin coalition is now in the minority, commanding only 57 of 120 Knesset seats. It faces a motion of no-confidence which the Likud opposition is expected to introduce in the Knesset tomorrow for action Tuesday.
Rabin’s move was approved by a majority of the Cabinet but it came as a surprise even to his Labor Alignment colleagues. At the opening of the weekly session and without prior debate, he informed Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Rafael and Welfare Minister Zevulun Hammer that they could no longer serve in his government.
Both had abstained when the Orthodox Aguda bloc presented a motion of no-confidence in the government on Dec. 14 for alleged Sabbath desecration. The motion was defeated by a vote of 55-48 with nine abstentions. But according to Israeli law, a member of the government who fails to oppose a no-confidence motion is subject to dismissal by the Premier.
Rabin did not ask for the resignation of the third NRP member of his Cabinet, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, who had voted against the Aguda motion. Burg said, however, that the ouster of his colleagues gave him no choice but to resign.
STAGE SET FOR MAJOR CHANGES
Today’s events ended the long, uneasy partnership between the Labor Alignment and the NRP, the largest and, relatively, the most moderate of the various religious political factions. More important, it set the stage for major political changes in Israel almost a year before the elections set for October 1977.
If the Likud motion to unseat the government is successful–and there is a strong possibility that it will be–the Rabin administration would become a transition regime. President Ephraim Katzir may then ask another Knesset member to form a new government, which is unlikely under the present circumstances, or the Knesset can dissolve itself and set an early date for elections. Rabin could undercut the Likud motion by submitting his resignation to the President before the Knesset votes. In any case it appeared today that Israelis might be going to the polls months before they expected to.
The Interior Ministry said today that it could prepare for elections within 60 days after the Knesset dissolved itself. Likud leader Menachem Beigin said elections could be held in April or, at the latest, May be recently international motion calling for elections May. 3.
NRP VIEWED AS UNRELIABLE PARTNER
It was clear that Rabin did not fire the NRP ministers in a moment of anger over their breach of coalition discipline. He apparently concluded that the religious faction was no longer a reliable partner and would increasingly oppose government policies as election day neared. He is known to have sought the advice of Justice Minister Haim Zadok who felt that the strongest measures had to be taken against the NRP lest its defiance make a farce of the coalition government.
There is the possibility that the Labor Alignment can defeat Likud’s no-confidence motion and continue to govern as a minority regime. The favorable reaction to Rabin’s move from the various independent “doveish” factions today indicated that they may support the government in a showdown with Likud.
Dr. Binyamin Halevy, an independent MK who split from Likud, Meir Payil of the leftist Moked. Shmuel Tamir of the Free Center, Arie Eliav of the Independent Socialist faction and Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Party were obviously delighted to see the NRP removed from the Cabinet. They said today that they would back the government on issues they regard as important, such as a substantive initiative toward peace with the Arabs.
Halevy remarked, “I am glad that the government finally had the courage to fight hypocrisy and political blackmail. His (Rabin’s), decision will purify the political atmosphere in the country.” Payil said, “This is good news. It’s good they (the NRP) are out.” Prof. Yigal Yadin, leader of the newly formed Democratic Movement for Change, approved the NRP ouster but said he thought Rabin should have resigned as well. The good of the country demands early elections, he said.
OTHER VIEWS EXPRESSED
Gen. (Res.) Ariel Sharon who recently quit Likud to form the Shlomzion faction which hopes to win Knesset seats in the next elections, said Rabin’s action marked another stage in the disintegration of the system that has governed Israel since its independence. “One should welcome the developments because they bring closer the moment of truth we are waiting for, the elections which will overthrow the present system,” he said.
Uzi, Baram, secretary of the Labor Party’s Jerusalem region, said Rabin’s move came as a surprise to him. He said he understood the Premier’s reasons but hoped there would be early elections instead of a minority government. On the other hand, Laborite Yisrael Kargman, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, observed that there were many minority governments in the world that govern successfully. But “if we have elections, the Alignment has a lot to tell the people of its achievements,” Kargman said.
The Alignment itself is on shaky ground. A large section of Mapam has been urging for months that the faction split with the Labor Party and stand on its own in the next elections. The Alignment’s remaining coalition partner, the Independent Liberal Party, has already decided in principle to leave the government and its central committee is expected to take a final vote on the matter shortly.
HOPES LABOR WILL GET WRONG MANDATE
Some observers here expressed the view today that Rabin deliberately provoked a government crisis in order to have early elections that he hopes, will give Labor a strong new mandate from the people. These observers say that the present government is too weak to go to Geneva to negotiate a peace settlement that inevitably will require substantial territorial concessions by Israel. They point to the Dec. 14 vote in the Knesset which came uncomfortably close to toppling the Rabin regime on a parochial issue that was of importance only to the religious minority.
Rabin, of course, will run serious risks in early elections, considering the precarious state of the economy, the recent exposure of high level corruption in Labor ranks and the rising wave of labor unrest. On the other hand, heavy political pressure is expected to be brought to bear on Israel to negotiate with the Arabs next year. This can only be done if the government has a united electorate behind it and Rabin has taken the first step to bring it about, the observers say.