Begin Reorganizes Cabinet

Premier Menachem Begin succeeded last night in putting together the elements of a reorganized coalition Cabinet, averting a government crisis, at least for the time being.

Under his plan, which the Cabinet is expected to approve at its weekly meeting next Sunday former Minister of Commerce Yigal Hurwitz will replace Simcha Ehrlich as Finance Minister, Ehrlich will assume the yet-to-be-created post of second Deputy Premier and Minister Without Portfolio Moshe Nissim will become Minister of Information another post that does not now exist in the Begin government.

The sensitive problem of replacing Moshe Dayan as Foreign Minister is being held in abeyance. Begin announced that he will continue to serve temporarily as Foreign Minister, the post he assumed when Dayan resigned a week ago, and that he might appoint a Deputy Foreign Minister to assist him. The Cabinet reshuffle represents an attempt by Begin to balance the conflicting interests of the various factions in his Likud-led coalition.

The impasse was broken when Ehrlich, a leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing agreed to become second Deputy Premier which will make him junior, albeit unofficially, to Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, leader of the much smaller Democratic Movement. Ehrlich, who said he planned to resign anyway in “a week or two,” accepted reluctantly. He explained that he was doing it for the good of the coalition that otherwise would be endangered. His successor, Hurwitz, is a member of the small, ultra-nationalist Loom faction of Likud. Nissim belongs to the Liberal Party.

STUMBLING BLACKS CITED

The new arrangement will be drafted formally at a meeting later this week between Begin Ehrlich, Yadin and Interior Minister Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party. Although Cabinet approval is expected, the reshuffle may run into trouble when it is presented to the Knesset for endorsement. A sharp debate is likely but the government’s majority is expected to prevail over opposition critics.

There are other stumbling blocks, however. According to the basic law governing the Cabinet’s structure, the creation of a second Deputy Premier’s office requires the approval of a Knesset majority. Begin may have difficulty mustering the necessary 61 votes inasmuch as the Democratic Movement which controls seven Knesset seats is not happy with the new arrangement.

Yosef Eliahu, chairman of its Knesset faction, has called a special meeting of his colleagues for this Friday. He charged that the appointment of a second Deputy Premier would “degrade” the office of Deputy Premier held by Yadin Ehrlich said, however, that if creation of the new post is delayed, he would be willing to serve temporarily as a minister-without-portfolio. Begin has already instructed the government’s attorneys to draft the necessary legislation.

There are long-range implications in the projected Cabinet reshoffle that could lead to a serious internal crisis in the not too distant future. If Begin’s plan is implemented, the hawkish wing of the government will be strengthened considerably at the expense of moderates.

Hurwitz is a hard-liner who quit Begin’s Cabinet last year because he opposed the Camp David accords. When he re-enters the Cabinet, he is expected to align himself with the other hawks, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, Transport Minister Haim Landau and Education Minister Zevulon Hammer of NRP. Moreover, the appointment of a Foreign Minister can not be postponed indefinitely. At the moment, the leading candidate is believed to be Knesset Speaker, Yitzhak Shamir, of Herut, whose political views are close to those of Sharon.

Some analysts predicted today that if Shamir is named Foreign Minister, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman would resign. There was some speculation, however, that the appointment of Ehrlich as second Deputy Premier might prompt Yadin to reconsider Begin’s offer of the Foreign Ministry. Yadin turned it down over the weekend because of the sharp policy differences between his faction and the coalition majority.

While the Cabinet is in the process of reorganization, the government faces two major challenges: the problem of complying with the Supreme Court’s order to remove the Gush Emunim settlement of Elon Moreh from the seized Arab lands it occupies; and the upcoming Knesset vote on an amendment to the abortion law that would greatly restrict the grounds for legal abortion. The government yielded to the demands of the Orthodox Aguda factions to bring this issue to a vote. The Aguda warned today that it may quit the coalition if the amendment fails.

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