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Last Ditch Efforts Under Way to Avoid Early Elections

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– Members of Premier Menachem Begin’s government were making last ditch efforts today to engineer a Cabinet reshuffle that would enable the Likud-led coalition to avoid early elections and serve out its term in office which expires in November. The deadline for a decision was set back unexpectedly by the murder last night of Bedouin Knesset member Hamad Abu Rabia. (See separate story.)

The crucial meeting that was to have been held at noon today between Begin, his Cabinet ministers and the Likud Knesset faction to set a date for early elections has been postponed until Friday because of Abu Rabia’s funeral.

Meanwhile, Housing and Absorption Minister David Levy has proposed certain Cabinet changes and is trying to hearten coalition MKs who want to remain in office but were resigned to early elections because of the government crisis.

MINISTER OUTLINES A PLAN

According to Levy’s plan, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon would become Defense Minister, a portfolio held by Begin since Ezer Weizman’s resignation last year. He would be replaced by either Eliezer Aftabbi, a National Religious Party MK or Pessach Gruper, of Likud’s Liberal Party wing. Likud MK Yoram Aridor would become Finance Minister, replacing Yigal Hurwitz whose resignation Sunday triggered the crisis.

In addition, Levy is urging Begin to persuade the three-man Ahva faction to join his coalition to balance the loss of Hurwitz’s Rafi faction and preserve its slim majority in the Knesset. Ahva leader Shlomo Eliahu might be offered a Cabinet seat as Minister-Without-Portfolio.

It was not immediately clear how much support Levy’s scheme would engender among other ministers. Sharon, the Cabinet’s most outspoken hawk, was bitterly opposed by the Liberal Party and the Democratic Movement when Begin proposed him for the defense portfolio last year. With respect to Ahva, Begin and other key ministers, including Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Interior Minister Yosef Burg, have expressed reluctance to govern with a Knesset majority dependent upon a splinter faction that is considered neither solid nor reliable.

Begin, who was described yesterday as determined to call for elections, appeared undecided today. He was quoted as telling a visiting American Congressional delegation that it was still uncertain whether the elections would be advanced.

Meanwhile, the opposition Labor Party has submitted a bill calling for disolution of the Knesset and elections to be held in April. It is expected to be debated next Monday. Labor floor managers claimed today that they could muster 61 votes for the measure if the coalition does not present a similar bill of its own.

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