New York (Jul. 5)
Premier Menachem Begin expressed absolute confidence today that he will form the next Israeli government based on an “absolute majority” in the Knesset, probably in partnership with three religious parties.
Interviewed on the ABC-TV “Issues and Answers” program, Begin said the vote count completed today gave his Likud party over 750,000 votes to over 705,000 for the Labor Alignment which, he said,
translates into 48 Knesset seats for Likud to 47 for Labor. “We are the largest group. By all the rules of democracy we expect to be invited by the President next week to form a government” , Begin declared.
Although he declined to say he had firm commitments from any potential coalition partners, he indicated that he was almost certain to reach agreement with the National Religious Party, the ultra-Orthodox Aguda Israel and the new Sephardic religious party, Tami, which will have 13 Knesset mandates between them. Such a coalition led by Likud would command a bare majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.
NO DIFFICULTY WITH SLIM MARGIN
Begin, in vigorous, almost combative tones rejected suggestions that he may have difficulty governing with so slim a margin. In a democracy, he declared, one vote is a majority, “an absolute majority,” and he might have one or two additional seats. He said he would meet with former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan tomorrow to discuss the possibility of Dayan’s Telem Party adding its two seats to a Likud coalition.
Begin also insisted that a small majority makes the most stable government. He said this was the case because it was more difficult to reach consensus in a broader-based government where some members sometimes “vote their conscience” on certain issues. In a small government, every member feels his responsibility for the government, Begin said.
He insisted that his government will be “the strongest, most stable, most efficient” government Israel has ever had and predicted that it will govern “for the next four-and-a-half years.”
REJECTS NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT
He dismissed a proposal by Yosef Burg, leader of the NRP, to form a national unity government of Likud and the Labor Alignment. “These are hectic days and all sorts of suggestions are heard,” he said. But he lashed out at Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres who, he said, flatly rejected his own past invitations to form a national unity coalition.
Begin, who frequently interupted his questioners, seemed to take umbrage when it was pointed out that his new coalition would not include moderates like Dayan or former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who were members of the Cabinet he formed in 1977, and therefore was likely to take a harder line than ever on many issues.
“Moderate, extremist, empty phraseology,” he said. “I quote Shakespeare — ‘words, words, words.’ I am a moderate not an extremist. I conducted affairs — I signed a peace treaty with Egypt at great sacrifice, great risks” to Israel. “All words … My government will be good, efficient, compact … Government is composed of groups, they discuss matters. The majority decides. Ususally it is by consensus. There is no problem of moderates or hard line. Problems are solved on their merits.”
He enumerated the problems he expects to face. “The Syrian question, the peace process, the missiles (in Lebanon), a comprehensive peace the terrorist so-called PLO in Lebanon. We shall deal with them in all seriousness, without hard line or soft line.”
Begin said Israel “knows everything” about the joint naval maneuvers being conducted by the Soviet Union and Syria off the Syrian coast. He said they were no threat to Israel. They may be a problem for the U.S., “for the commander of the Sixth Fleet and the government that gives him orders,” not for Israel, he said.
MORE TIME TO SOLVE MISSILE CRISIS
Begin also reiterated that he would give U.S. special envoy Philip Habib more time to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian missile problem.
“We are prepared to see the diplomatic course through,” Begin said. “Habib shuttled until now … He is a brilliant man. Until now he didn’t solve the problem with all his brains. He may come (to Israel) this week. I will ask him what results… U.S. policy is to return to the status quo ante. The missiles must be removed. We can’t wait forever … We could have destroyed them in two hours … President Reagan and Secretary of State (Alexander) Haig asked for time. I agreed. But we can’t wait forever. If they are not removed we will have to use our own means to remove them.”
Begin claimed that the Reagan Administration’s suspension of delivery of four F-16 jet fighters to Israel after Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor on June 7 hurt the U.S., not Israel. “It (the suspension) shouldn’t have taken place at all,” he said. He said Israel expects to receive six F-16s not affected by the embargo on their delivery date, July 17, and also the four embargoed planes, possibly later.
He reacted with anger when asked if Israel would continue to use American equipment to attack Palestinian terrorist bases in Lebanon. “We have a perfect right. It is legitimate self-defense. It is in self-defense. This is exactly what is stated in our agreement” with the U.S., he said.
NO KNOWLEDGE OF U.S.-PLO CONTACTS
Begin said he had absolutely no information to substantiate a report in the Los Angeles Times today that for the past seven years, and up to the present, the U.S. has had secret contacts with the PLO.
“I heard it the first time,” Begin said. “Ask the Los Angeles Times where it got its information.” He said he was certain no such contacts took place during the Carter Administration. and are not taking place in the Reagan Administration. He said he could not be certain what transpired during the Ford Administration and said he would ask Yitzhak Rabin who was Israel’s Prime Minister at the time.
He conceded that Israel knew of indirect U.S. contacts with the PLO in efforts to release the American hostages held in Iran last year. He said Israel didn’t object, “for the sake of the hostages who we wanted free.”
Begin said that under Israeli law, President Yitzhak Navon will hold consultations with the leaders of the main factions this week. “He will then invite the man who can form a government, who I happen to be,” he said. He said that the President may summon him next Sunday or Monday. He noted that under law he has 21 days to form a government which can be extended for another 21 days if necessary. But he predicted that he would be able to form a government in ten days to two weeks.