Behind the Headlines the Prospect of Early Elections in Israel Finds Most of the Parties Unprepared

The prospect of early elections which loomed suddenly following the resignation of Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s government last night finds most of Israel’s political parties woefully unprepared to go to the polls. The elections, originally scheduled for late next year, probably will not be held before June. (See related story P.3)

But first the major political parties must solve numerous internal problems and disputes while the many splinter factions try to improve their strength by mergers and the newly formed groups seek to establish their identities with the electorate. A party-by-party survey by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency indicated the position of the various parties as they stand today.

Labor Party: While Premier Rabin’s ouster of the National Religious Party from his Cabinet enhanced his stature in his own party, it by no means ended the challenge to his leadership from within. His most serious rival is Defense Minister Shimon Peres who has not given up his bid, to head the Labor Party list in the next elections.

Peres has been feuding constantly with Rabin in recent months. He felt slighted when the Premier failed to consult with him over the ouster of the NRP. He, and several other senior ministers, learned of the decision only after Rabin had discussed it with former Premier Golda Meir, who holds no office, and with Chaim Zadok and Israel Galili, ministers who are junior to Peres in point of Cabinet rank.

‘Mapam: While the leadership issue is the most serious one confronting the Labor Party. its platform may make it difficult to preserve the alignment with Mapam. The latter has made it clear that it will not appear on a Labor Alignment list unless major changes are made in the platform. These include language indicating the Alignment’s willingness to make territorial concessions in the Jadaea and Samaria districts (West Bank) as part of an overall peace settlement with the Arabs. The platform, as it stands, does not mention Judaea-Samaria.

There is a strong faction within Mapam that has been lobbying for months to break away from the Alignment and present a separate list to the voters. A group headed by MK Aharon Efrath is already preparing a separate election campaign.

PROSPECTS FOR OTHER PARTIES

Likud: The opposition faction seems to be ready, in general, for early elections which its leaders have been demanding for some time, It is a well established political body with a staff and machinery that can be mobilized swiftly for an election campaign. But Likud also faces internal leadership difficulties. There is a group within Likud opposed to having veteran Herut leader Menachem Beigin automatically at the head of its election list. Opposition to Beigin was one of the reasons Gen. (Res.) Ariel Sharon gave last month when he quit Likud, a party he had helped to found.

Independent Liberals: The ILP is also a well established party with an experienced staff. But it is a small faction and the failure of its recent attempt to extract concessions from the Labor Alignment may have tarnished its image. The ILP is one of those factions that seeks alignments, mergers or parliamentary blocs with other small factions. Ideologically, it is closest to the Free Center and the Civil Rights Party but efforts to form a coalition with these and other factions in the Knesset have been unproductive so far.

National Religious Party: The NRP is the largest and, relatively, the most moderate of the religious factions. But it too has been strained in recent months by disputes between its militant “young guard” and its veteran leadership, It is constantly being pushed to the right by the ultra-Orthodox Aguda bloc, the so-called “Torah Front” which accuses the NRP of being insufficiently zealous in pressing for State enforcement of religious practices.

The NRP and Aguda are supported by a hard core of religious nationalists, represented by the Gush Emunim who claim that the entire West Bank belongs to Israel by divine right. The NRP was instrumental in preventing the government from acting against the illegal settlers at Kadum in Samaria. Unauthorized Jewish settlements in the administered territories is expected to be a major issue in the next elections.

SPLINTER FACTIONS AND NEW GROUPS

Splinter Factions: The so-called splinter factions are just that. They have been unable to coalesce into an effective Knesset bloc due to differing philosophies and leadership rivalry. Shulamit Aloni’s Civil Rights Party, Shmuel Tamir’s Free Center and Dr. Benyamin Halevy, an independent MK who defected from Likud, could comprise a liberal center bloc along with the ILT.

On the other hand, a left-Socialist bloc could be created with the new Independent Socialist Movement consisting of Arye Eliav and Marcia Freedman and Moked, headed by Meir Payil. The extreme left is represented by the New Communist or Maki faction which often votes with Moked, and the pro-Moscow Rakah Communist faction.

New Groups: Two new groups emerged on the political scene during the past few months–Sharon’s Shlomzion faction and the Movement for Change headed by Hebrew University archaeologist Yigal Yadin. Sharon has been a strong advocate of early elections. But so far he appears to be a lone wolf. His own name appears on his party list but he has yet to hint who his partners will be.

Yadin is ideologically a “dove” and his new movement may be a natural partner in a liberal center bloc. He is not seeking a coalition at this time but apparently is waiting for other factions to approach him. In any event, the Movement for Change is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen if it can gain support and momentum in time for the early elections.

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