Begin’s Government Wins Vote of Confidence by Narrowest Margin

Premier Menachem Begin’s Likud-led coalition government, mustering all of its resources, barely survived a no-confidence vote in the Knesset today over the rapidly deteriorating economy. The tally was 57-54 against motions submitted separately by three opposition factions — Labor Alignment, Communist Party and the ultra-nationalist Tehiya — but voted on as a single motion. There were two abstentions.

The three vote margin was the narrowest by which Begin’s coalition has averted defeat, since it took office in May, 1977. Former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, both of whom had served in Begin’s Cabinet, voted for the first time with the opposition.

Weizman, who delivered what some observers described as the most moving speech of the grueling seven-hour debate, urged his Likud colleagues to bring down the government and go to the electorate for a new mandate. His defection could cost him membership in Likud. Dayan, a former Laborite, is an independent MK.

SOARING INFLATION PROMPTS MOTIONS

The no-confidence motions and the debate were prompted by the release of economic statistics last Friday which showed the cost of living up II percent in October, the second highest monthly increase in Israel’s history, and inflation running at on annual rate of 138 percent, the highest in the world.

The crisis forced Begin to cut short by one day his 10-day visit to the U.S. Begin returned to Israel last night to marshall coalition forces for the crucial test in the Knesset.

He did not speak during the debate. But he managed to align Likud, the National Religious Party and the Aguda bloc against the opposition. At one point today, it appeared that the coalition would defeat the motion by five votes. But two splinter faction MKs, former members of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) decided to vote against the government. Begin’s survival was attributed to a decision by two wavering independent MKs to abstain rather than vote with the opposition.

CITES PERIOD OF EMERGENCY

In his speech, Weizman said that Israel was passing through a period of emergency. “If Likud doesn’t do something extraordinary and fast, not only will the State suffer but Likud. In such a period we must change the ones who stand at the helm,” he said.

Weizman recalled that exactly three years ago tomorrow, President Anwar Sodat come to Jerusalem launching the peace process. This, he said, was one of the major turning points in Israel’s history. But, the former defense chief accused the government of souring the people on the peace agreement by blaming all of Israel’s economic problems on “the price of peace.”

Reactions to Weizman’s speech were mixed. Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich called it “sincere and patriotic.” But Haim Corfu, chairman of the coalition and a member of Herut, said Weizman had pronounced his own sentence.

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