JERSALEM (Oct. 29)
Premier Menachem Begin indicated today that he may offer the vacant Foreign Ministry post in his Cabinet to Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir, a long-time political ally, and Shamir, for his part, indicated that he would not turn it down. He would make “a very good candidate, “Begin told reporters this morning, referring to Shamir who is a member of Herut and was a leader of the underground Stern group in the pre-Statehood period.
Begin stopped short of saying that he would actually offer Shamir the job from which Moshe Dayan resigned a week ago. But his remark confirmed reports that the Knesset Speaker was the strongest candidate. Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin earlier rejected a formal offer of the post.
The Premier visited Yadin at Hadassah Hospital where he is recuperating from a recent heart attack. Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement, was said to have told the Premier that it would be “wrong and unethical” for him to take over the Foreign Ministry in view of the serious policy differences between his faction and the Cabinet majority.
Interior Minister Yosef Burg, who heads the Israeli negotiating team in the autonomy talks with Egypt, also declined the post. Political observers believe he did so because the National Religious Party is loathe to give up the Interior Ministry, a traditional NRP fiefdom since the State was established.
But Shamir said on an Army Radio interview this morning that he would “help the Prime Minister to the best of my ability” in his efforts to reorganize his Cabinet. He said he would respond specifically to a Cabinet appointment if and when a concrete proposal was made by Begin, indicating that he was amenable to the idea.
UNDER PRESSURE TO REORGANIZE CABINET
Begin has been under considerable pressure to speed the reorganization of his Cabinet since Dayan’s departure opened the way for a reshuffling of portfolios. He conceded today that the present situation is “complex” but he firmly denied reports that he was contemplating resignation, The appointment of Shamir to the Foreign Ministry would satisfy Begin’s Herut Party in the Likud coalition. However, it would create serious problems with Likud’s Liberal Party wing which stands to lose a key Cabinet portfolio.
Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich, under fire from all sides, including his Liberal Party colleagues over Israel’s deteriorating economy, announced last night that he would resign “in a week or two” regardless of the outcome of the Cabinet reorganization. According to one scenario, Ehrlich would replace Shamir as Knesset Speaker.
But Liberal Party circles have angrily rejected the trade-off of a powerful Cabinet portfolio for a largely ceremonial Knesset post. The Liberals, with nearly 20 Knesset seats, would then be reduced to three Cabinet ministers, the same as the Democratic Movement which has only seven Knesset seats and, according to public opinion polls, has virtually no political constituency.