Tel Aviv (Jul. 1)
Both Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres claimed victory in yesterday’s Knesset elections, addressing their enthusiastic election workers in the early hours of the morning. Although the final outcome may not be known for several days, the elections were the closest in Israel’s history.
Three hours after the announcement of the statistical projection showing Labor with a narrow lead, Peres said it appeared clear he would be called on by the President to form the next coalition.
An hour or so later with the vote tied, Begin mocked Peres’ claim, saying it was obvious that Likud would again form a coalition with the religious parties, and this could be done within a day or so.
But even before Peres spoke, amateur statisticians glued to their television screens all over the country, decided that Labor, with 49 Knesset seats — based on about 40 percent of the vote counted — would not be able to attract the religious parties to form a coalition. At the same time, they felt that Begin too might not be able to form a stable, workable government.
Likud appeared confident they would be able to attract the support not only of the six National Religious Party seats and the five of the Aguda Israel but also the two or three seats won by Ahar on Abu Hatzeira’s new Tami party, which has indicated readiness to go with Begin.
Their enthusiasm diminished after reports that the NRP would refuse to serve in a coalition with Abu Hatzeira because of his defection from their ranks and the establishment of his new party which had made serious inroads among NRP supporters, cutting its Knesset representation by half.
NRP leader Yosef Burg did not slam the door on joining a Labor-led coalition but indicated that the party would prefer to go with Begin. Observers said much depended on the price that Begin or Peres would be prepared to pay for NRP and Agudat Israel support.
SMALL PARTIES BITTER
Yesterday’s election virtually wiped out a number of small parties, and their representatives spoke bitterly of “treachery” by the Labor Alignment. Sheli’s Meir Payil said Labor’s insistence on the need for a large majority to oust Begin had attracted many voters who did not realize how essential it was to have smaller parties in the Knesset to act as a brake on the monolithic parties.
Shulamit Aloni, reduced to one-woman representation, appeared shocked at the dashing of her hopes to lead a sizeable party whose voice would be heard on social affairs.
Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, whose ouster from the Knesset may mean he is open to extradition to France on embezzlement charges as well as liable to a prison sentence and fines in Israel, walked out of a television panel show of “small parties” when the projected results were announced.
Agudat Israel representatives said they would have to consult their Council of Sages — the panel of rabbis which runs all Aguda affairs, religious and political — before deciding on their next political move.