Jerusalem (Jul. 1)
Premier Menachem Begin was considered likely to continue in office at the head of a Likud-Religious coalition in the wake of yesterday’s elections. Although Labor might end up one seat ahead of Likud in the next Knesset when the final tally is known, Labor’s chances of putting together a coalition seemed slim, while Likud’s seemed considerably better.
With only 40 percent of the vote counted by the early hours of this morning, Labor was given 49 Knesset seats to 48 for Likud. The National Religious Party was down to six from 12 in the outgoing Knesset. The ultra-Orthodox Aguda Israel had four seats, Poale Aguda one and the new Sephardic religious party, Tami, three. All of those figures were subject to change when the final tally is completed and the so-called “remainder” votes are allocated among the parties.
With initial coalition-making contacts already underway, seasoned observers rated the chances of the major parties as follows: A 60 percent chance that Likud can form a government; a 15 percent chance that Labor can form a government; a 25 percent chance that no one can form a government.
Even if the likeliest scenario does indeed materialize, and Begin puts together a coalition, it will have only a slender majority in the Knesset. Some observers believe such a government would be inherently unstable and would probably fall fairly soon. Others, however, speak of the “strength in weakness” phenomenon and believe that a closely knit narrow-majority government would have staying power despite the arithmetic.
ROUGH TIME SEEN FOR LIKUD GOVT.
A key factor making life difficult for such a government would be the numerically strong and cohesive opposition in the Knesset.
Unlike the outgoing ninth Knesset, where the main opposition party, Labor controled only 32 mandates, Labor would have some 50 in the 10th Knesset, and these would be consistently backed by the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), Shinui and Telem, each with one seat — giving an impressively solid phalanx of opposition mandates.
The Rakah Communists would also be lined up against a Likud-led government, and thus it would constantly be prey to parliamentary challenges. All of its members would have to be on hand virtually all of the time in order to stave off suaden no-confidence votes.
Nevertheless it is clear that Begin intends to go ahead to set up such a government. The Premier declared his determination at a predawn “victory” press conference at his Tel Aviv election headquarters. He was scheduled to meet with the NRP leader, Yosef Burg, later today to launch coalition negotiations.
Begin apparently hopes to set up a quick alliance of Likud, the NRP and Agudat Israel which will bring him close to the needed 61-seat majority. The precise arithmetic will hinge on the final election results, still unknown. As a second stage — or as part of the first stage if these three parties cannot achieve 61 seats between them — Begin would look to Tami, Aharon Abu Hatseira’s Sephardic religious party with a probably score of three, and Moshe Dayan’s Telem with one seat to provide the government with a modicum of stability.
As for as Labor is concerned, it will look to Aguda, rather than to the politically hawkish NRP, to break away from the pro-Likud religious alliance.
The NRP is seen as virtually committed to serving with Begin rather than with Labor. Even though this might well not be the preference of the Party’s titular head, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, he is no longer the all-powerful boss in the sadly-reduced NRP. Much of the power now resides with Education Minister Zevulun Hammer and Gush Emunim leader Haim Druckman who prefer Likud to Labor.
LABOR PROSPECTS BLEAK
Aguda has no such firm political-ideological commitments to Likud, or to Likud’s “Greater Israel” policies. For that reason it will be the focus of Labor wooing efforts. But Labor’s prospects must be considered bleak because it is hard to see how Aguda’s ultra-Orthodoxy can be squared with the left-liberal outlook prevalent in Labor and especially in Mapam, Shinui, and the CRM, Labor’s close allies.
Even if the decision was made to set aside matters of religious controversy in the more pressing interest of removing Begin from power, the Aguda itself would have to be persuaded that a partnership with Labor would be preferable to the present alliance with Likud. Aguda leaders professed themselves last night to be well satisfied with the past four years with Begin. The Likud Premier had kept all his commitments to them, they noted, whereas past agreements with the Labor Party often produced disagreement and misunderstanding. The Agudists cite legislation limiting abortions and autopsies as their party’s achievements under the Begin government.
Some optimistic Laborites believe, however, that these very achievements, made under Likud, make it possible now for Aguda and Labor to enter into an alliance. Labor they say would not be required to make any new concessions to the Orthodox part — concessions which Mapam and the other secular elements would find hard to stomach. What would be required in effect would be a preservation of the status quo as it exists today, after four years of Likud-Religious partnership.
Granted that Labor made bold campaign statements pledging to sweep away Aguda’s “achievements” in restricting abortions and autopsies, the straitened circumstances brought about by the tight election result will allow Labor to conveniently shelve those pledges if by so doing they can help to oust Begin from office.
One significant conclusion to be drawn from this close election is that many small parties appear to have been wiped out in a massive move by the public towards the two big blocs.
LEFTIST PARTIES SUFFERED
Among those to bite the dust are the Independent Liberals and Sheli which had scored one and two seats respectively in the 1977 Knesset elections. Other
small parties — Shinui and CRM, held on by the skin of their teeth. Only Aguda of the extant small parties did well, while of the new-born small parties Tami did fairly well and Dayan’s Telem did abysmally badly.
The NRP, as expected, lost votes both to Tami and to the ultra nationalist Tehiya and was drastically reduced. NRP leaders took comfort from the fact that however shrunken, their party remains virtually indispensable to coalition-making. For Begin it is absolutely indispensable.
Labor’s performance, viewed on its own merits and in disregard of coalition-making prospects, was impressive. The party added 50 percent to its 1977 total of seats. Likud’s increase from 45 in 1977 to a provisional 48 as of this morning may be seen as another stage in the steady and constant growth of the right-centrist bloc ever since 1969 when Herut and the Liberals first joined together to form Gahal, the forerunners of the Likud.