Prospects for a Coalition

Likud’s stunning victory over Labor in yesterday’s elections makes it likely that the next Israeli government will consist of a coalition between Likud, the National Religious Party and the two ultra-Orthodox Aguda factions with possibly one or two splinter factions joining in. That was the consensus among political analysts here today with most of the votes counted, except those of the army and merchant seamen overseas.

The only alternative would seem to be a coalition between Likud and Prof. Yigal Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) which emerged as the country’s third largest party. The prospects for Labor to form a new coalition are almost nil unless, for some reason, Likud is unable to form a coalition during the time allotted for that purpose.

The DMC made a very respectable showing for a brand new faction that appeared on the scene less than a year ago. But its success was clearly at the expense of Labor. It made no inroads in the Likud constituency as had been hoped. Therefore, analysts believe, the DMC is hardly indispensable to Likud and the latter is under no pressure to accept Yadin’s terms for a coalition partnership.

Apart from sharp foreign policy differences, the DMC’s major demand is electoral reform that would replace Israel’s present system of proportional representation with direct elections by constituencies. Yadin believes that his reform would automatically eliminate many of the smaller factions, forcing their amalgamation with the larger parties and thereby making for a stable one or two party government instead of the multiparty coalitions.

With that in mind, Yadin made it clear during the election campaign that the DMC would not join any coalition unless its partner agreed to call for new elections within two years under the new system.

NRP HOLDS CRUCIAL BALANCE

Likud, whose various elements have been in the opposition for the past 29 years, can hardly be expected to agree to face the voters before its four-year term of office is up. Moreover, as matters stand, Likud does not need the DMC and Yadin’s hope to “hold the balance” has been swept away. Even if he offered to join a coalition with Labor, the two parties would be well short of the minimum 61 Knesset seats needed to govern. They would have to enlist the NRP which leans toward Likud.

The religious parties now hold the crucial balance. The NRP, the Aguda and Poalei Agudo with 17 Knesset seats between them and a few splinter factions could give Likud a comfortable governing margin without the DMC. According to well placed pundits, Likud will soon initiate coalition talks with the religious parties and is expected to accede to their demands aimed at reinforcing the Orthodox establishment’s control over many facets of social and family life in Israel.

Another serious obstacle to a Likud-DMC coalition is their wide gap over the approach to peace. Likud is committed to annexation of the West Bank. The DMC favors territorial concessions in return for a genuine peace. It would return much of the West Bank to Arab sovereignty although it wants Israel to retain land adjacent to the Jordan River as its “security border.”

However, there have been some signs of moderation in Likud policy on the territories. Elimelech Rimalt, elder statesman of the Liberal Party, proposed a “compromise formula” on a recent television interview. He suggested that Likud and the DMC reserve their positions and agree to hold a plebiscite on the fate of the West Bank if and when the issue becomes immediate. This would mean a retreat from Likud’s annexation pledge which has troubled many Liberal politicians anyway because they fear it would slam the door on any peaceful settlement with the Arabs.

Meanwhile, the Likud Executive today called on all parties in Israel (excluding Rakah and other extreme left parties) to join in a national unity government. The resolution adopted by the Likud Executive, on a proposal by Beigin, calls on the parties to enter negotiations with the Likud so that a national unity government can be formed.

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