Jerusalem (Jul. 5)
Prime Minister Menachem Begin told the Cabinet today that there is “no doubt whatever” that he would be called upon by President Yitzhak Navon to form a new government. He said he hoped to succeed in this assignment quickly. Begin read out to the ministers the final — though still unofficial — vote results as they assembled for their first weekly session following last Tuesday’s elections.
The final results, tabulated minutes earlier at the Central Election Committee’s counting room at the Knesset, gave Likud 48 seats, Labor 47, National Religious Party 6, Hadash (Rakah Communists) 4, Agudat Israel 4, Tami 3, Tehiya 3, Telem (headed by Moshe Dayan) 2, Shinui 2, and Citizens Rights Movement (headed by Shulamit Aloni) I.
The official results will not be announced until Tuesday because seamen’s votes are still to be counted. But their number is too small to make a difference in the outcome, according to political sources. Meanwhile, soldiers’ ballots gave Likud a sharp edge over Labor. With about half of the soldiers’ vote tallied, Likud led Labor by 43 to 36 percent, far better than it did among the general population June 30. Tehiya won six percent of the soldiers’ vote, three times its strength among civilians. Telem also did better among the soldiers.
Begin said that by whatever criterion the President chose to operate– largest party or the party with best prospects of forming a government–it was Likud that would be called to undertake this task after Navon has conferred with all the factions, as required by law.
Begin said he hoped to be able to set up a new government before the new Knesset is convened to take the oath of loyalty, in just over two weeks time. He called for national reconciliation and an effort to overcome the divisions and bitterness engendered by the election campaign.
SPIRIT OF RECONCILIATION
As a demonstration of the spirit of reconciliation, Begin said it was appropriate that the Cabinet’s first decision after the election should be to grant university status to the Labor Party’s Teacher’s College at Beit Berl. He praised the role of Berl Katznelson, who died in 1944, as the “father of the Labor movement,” after whom the college is named. The Cabinet’s decision, proposed by Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, means that the institution can now award recognized bachelor degrees to its students.
Begin said it was important in terms of foreign policy that he should have his new government set up before his scheduled meeting with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt later this month.
The Labor Party, it is reliably understood, has all but given up the efforts to form a government and is now focussing on preparations for the opening of the Knesset where it plans to play the role of a fighting and effective opposition. There were reports today that Labor would form a unitary parliamentary bloc with Shinui and the CRM to become the largest single faction. That would give Labor first choice in the allocation of the key committee chairmanships in the house.
Labor now hopes that the new Begin coalition will be vulnerable to opposition assault and will fall within a few months. Likud observers too do not expect the government to last out its term, and there is talk of early elections coinciding with the municipal elections scheduled for November, 1982.
BASIS FOR BEGIN-LED COALITION
A Begin-led coalition (if it can be formed) would be based on the present Likud-NRP-Aguda combination, but would require bolstering from at least one other party since the three together add up to only 58 mandates.
The likeliest choice appears to be Aharon Abu Hatzeira’s Tami group, which has declared its preference for Likud over Labor. The problem there, however, is deep personal and political animosity between Hatzeira and NRP leader Yosef Burg, and between the two parties. Hatzeira defected from the NRP shortly before the elections and clearly took votes from it.
Kol Israel Radio reported today that leading rabbis, including the Chief Rabbis, are launching a reconciliation bid between the NRP and Tami with a view to getting them both in a coalition government headed by Begin.
Another possibility for Begin is the at least passive support of the ultra-rightist Tehiya which won three Knesset seats. Begin made a point of noting at today’s cabinet that the “Eretz Israel parties” (Likud and Tehiya) had scored a majority among the soldiers’ votes.
A third option which Begin will himself seek to clarify Monday, in a tete a tete with Moshe Dayan, is the participation of Telem (two seats) in a Begin Cabinet. In return, Telem is expected to demand that Dayan be named minister in charge of the autonomy negotiations — with a view to applying autonomy unilaterally as Dayan has long advocated if it proves impossible to reach agreement with Egypt.
Dayan had earlier indicated his preference for Labor over Likud. But, it was clear that he would agree to go with Begin if Labor was unable to form a government and if Likud gave him the foreign policy role he seeks.