JERUSALEM (Dec. 20)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin appeared today to have greatly strengthened his position within the Labor Alignment as a result of his ouster of the National Religious Party from the Cabinet yesterday. Top Alignment leaders, attending a meeting here last night called by the Premier, were virtually unanimous in their praise of Rabin.
The man who had been widely criticized for indecisiveness was hailed as a leader who could act forcefully when he had to; Moreover, he did not act unilaterally or in haste but only after consultation with such powerful Labor Party figures as former Premier Golda Meir, Justice Minister Chaim Zadok, Finance Minister Yehoshua Rabinowitz and the influential Labor veteran Israel Galfli, Minister-Without-Portfolio.
All of them apparently agreed that the time had come to drop the NRP, an increasingly unreliable coalition partner. More important for Rabin’s future leadership of the party they all appeared prepared to support the Premier against such challengers for his office as Defense Minister Shimon Peres and former Foreign Minister Abba Eban.
Rabin went before the Knesset this afternoon to inform it officially of his dismissal of the NRP. He said he believed the elections should be advanced and would recommend this to the Labor Alignment. Rabin said the crisis was not caused by differences of opinion between the coalition parties but stressed that “the basics of a democratic society” must be maintained. When a coalition partner refuses to oppose a no confidence motion, that is tantamount to resignation under the law and the law must be upheld, he said.
Nevertheless. Rabin expressed hope that the historic partnership between Labor and the NRP would continue in the future. His conciliatory tone was not matched by the ousted NRP minis- ters who denounced Rabin’s action and warned of dire consequences for the government and for Israel’s future. The various parties are expected to convene tonight to decide how to vote on the no confidence motion tomorrow.
But while the Labor Party, rent by internal dissension and feuding in recent months, rallied behind its leader, a crisis atmosphere prevailed throughout the country. The Alignment, reduced to 57 out of 120 Knesset seats, no longer commands a majority. in fact, it faces the imminent loss of four more seats if the Independent Liberal Party carries out its threat to resign from the coalition.
Rabin must decide, by tomorrow at the latest, whether he will submit his resignation to President Ephraim Katzir, present a bill to the Knesset calling for early elections, or attempt to ride out a Likud no confidence motion and govern as a minority regime.
SITUATION FRAUGHT WITH PERIL
Any one of those options is fraught with peril. Elections could not be held for at least four months, most probably not before June. During that time, Israel’s faltering economy might worsen since no caretaker government would be able to take decisive measures to control inflation and stem the rising tide of unemployment.
The new budget, due to be submitted to the Knesset next month, would have no chance of approval with elections pending. The Treasury would have to present an interim budget, a move the Finance Ministry is anxious to avoid. As Amnon Rubinstein of the newly formed Democratic Movement for Change put it today, “A caretaker government means a period of total immobility except for the money-printing machine.”
There are also dangers in the foreign policy field. Rabin is due to go to Washington next month for meetings with President Carter and officials of the new Administration. He hopes to return with political gains. But fears were expressed here that as the leader of an interim regime or even of a minority government, he could expect little in the way of commitments from the U.S.
Many observers here are deeply concerned over the condition of political flux in Israel at a time when pressure is sure to mount from the U.S. and other friendly Western nations for Israel to enter into full-scale negotiations with the Arabs at the earliest possible date. The Egyptian-Syrian peace offensive and Saudi Arabia’s move last week to link oil prices to Middle East negotiations may well erode Israel’s support in the West.
WHY AT THIS TIME
Analysts here are wondering therefore why Rabin precipitated a government crisis at this time. At last night’s Labor Alignment meeting the Premier stressed the principle of collective responsibility. He said that a government that acquiesced when one of its partners refused to support it on a no confidence motion was a government headed for disintegration.
But the Labor Alignment has had similar difficulties with the NRP in the past and often yielded to it to preserve the coalition at times when the political situation at home and abroad was much less urgent. Some political observers believe Rabin is deliberately seeking early elections.
For one thing, he would like to go to the polls before the recently formed opposition factions have an opportunity to consolidate their positions. Rabin sees a serious challenge to Labor from both the Democratic Movement for Change, headed by Hebrew University archaeologist Yigal Yadin, and the Shlomzion faction launched last month by the popular Yom Kippur War hero, Gen. (Res.) Ariel Sharon.
Furthermore, according to these observers, with elections imminent, the Labor Party is likely to cancel its internal elections. Thus Rabin would be assured that the same party leadership that elevated him to the Premiership three years ago would continue to hold the positions of power. They are considered more likely to support Rabin than his most serious challenger. Defense Minister Peres.
TRYING TO HEAD OFF BREAKAWAYS
Meanwhile, consultations are being held with Mapam leaders to head off a possible breakaway from the Labor Alignment. Labor Party bosses are also sounding out the various doveish factions such as the Civil Rights Party, Moked, the Independent Socialists, the Free Center and Dr. Binyamin Halevy an independent MK. With their support, the Labor Alignment might be able to defeat Likud’s no-confidence motion which now is certain to be supported by the NRP and the Aguda bloc.
But the Independent Liberals present a serious problem. Last month they submitted a series of demands to the Alignment covering government reforms, compulsory labor arbitration and national health insurance. They served notice that if no satisfactory replies were forthcoming they would quit the coalition.
The Alignment was to have replied Jan. 6. But in view of the present crisis and the possibility of a caretaker government being formed, the ILP said yesterday that they wanted the answers immediately, Some of the ILP demands conflict with policies favored by Mapam and Rabin will have to perform a delicate Juggling act to preserve what is left of his coalition, observers said.