TEL AVIV (May. 19)
Likud leader Menachem Beigin’s overtures for a national unity coalition government encountered a totally negative response from the Labor Alignment. Labor sources indicated today that there was no possibility of a partnership with Likud.
Beigin is apparently anxious to establish a Likud-led government without undue delay. His first political statement after his election victory was a call for a government embracing “all Zionist parties loyal to the State of Israel.” If he cannot put together a wall-to-wall coalition, as is probably the case, observers believe that Beigin will try for one that is broadly based and reflective of some sort of national consensus. Apart from Labor, Prof. Yigol Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), which has 14 seats in the new Knesset, is the most likely partner in such a coalition.
The DMC has not received an invitation from Beigin yet to negotiate a coalition and its leadership seems to be waiting for an approach before even discussing the subject. There are two formidable obstacles to a DMC-Likud partnership. One is their differences in foreign policy. The DMC is prepared for territorial compromises in exchange for peace. Likud’s official position is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are integral parts of Israel. But when the party is required to head a government rather than the opposition, that position could be modified.
A wider gap exists on the issue of electoral reform. The DMC wants to replace the present system of proportional representation with direct elections by constituencies. Moreover, it insists that the next government agree in advance to hold elections under the new system two years after taking office. This is considered unacceptable by Likud.
RELIGIOUS PARTIES SEEM WILLING TO JOIN
Beigin can easily put together a majority government without Labor or the DMC. He regards the National Religious Party (NRP) which won 12 seats in the election, a gain of two, as “in his pocket.” The two ultra-Orthodox Aguda factions are also believed willing to join a Likud-led coalition and Beigin could pick up an additional two votes in the Knesset from Gen. Ariel Sharon’s Shlomzion faction.
The religious parties are especially exultant over the election results. The NRP and the Aguda factions together would constitute a 17-seat religious bloc, the third largest in the Knesset and could, with an acquiescent Likud, extend religious control over Israeli life, enforce religious education in all school systems and enforce religious observances. Such has been their aim since the State was formed but they were restrained by the ruling Labor Party.
Zevulun Hammer, of the NRP’s militant “young guard,” was one of the first politicians telephoned by Beigin after the election to discuss coalition negotiations. He reportedly responded enthusiastically. But veteran NRP leader Yosef Burg told Hammer not to move too fast so that the NRP could extract the maximum concessions in its bargaining with Likud. Burg, who was Interior Minister in the government of Premier Yitzhak Rabin, is expected to demand the same portfolio in a Likud-led regime and, in addition, to be named Deputy Premier.
Despite the severe upset in Tuesday’s elections Israelis accepted the results of the democratic process and there was no visible rancor. Beigin received a congratulatory telephone call from Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and letters of congratulations from Prof. Yadin and Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Party which is at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Likud.
Meanwhile, votes are still being counted. When the soldiers ballots are in, Likud may find itself with two more seats in the Knesset and Labor with one more.