Jerusalem (Jul. 20)
The tenth Knesset was sworn into office today against the background of escalating warfare across the Israel – Lebanon border which brought urgent appeals for national unity from President Yitzhak Navon and others who addressed the inaugural session.
But with only a single mandate separating Likud from the opposition Labor Alignment — the result of the June 30 elections which were the closest in Israel’s history — most observers believe the new Knesset will be an arena of bitter debate and high tension.
Navon told the packed chamber: “The is an emergency and calls for a serious effort by the government and the opposition to arrive — if possible — at agreement on the principles of our policy on a matter so vital for our security and with implications for our political standing in the region and in the world at large.”
He was refering to the immediate situation in Lebanon marked by heavy Israeli air, land and sea bombardment of Palestinian positions during the past 10 days and continuing terrorist rocket and artillery attacks on towns in northern Israel which have killed five persons so far and wounded more than a score of others.
PERES MUM ON CONSENSUS
Earlier today, Labor Party leader Shimon Peres refused to say there was a “national consensus” over policy toward Lebanon. He said there could be no such consensus because the government has declined to consult with the opposition at any stage in the developing crisis. The Begin government’s new policy of striking at Palestinian targets even in the midst of civilian populated areas has brought Israel into direct conflict with the U.S. since American-supplied weapons are being used.
Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party and Interior Minister in the outgoing government presided over the chamber today as its senior member. He, too, called for a “national consensus on the great issues that confront us.” The NRP has been pressing Likud and Labor to form a national “unity government” in view of the close outcome of the June 30 elections. The newly elected Speaker of the Knesset, Manachem Savidor of Likud’s Liberal Party, also called for “maximal national unity between the two main blocs in the house.” He urged “restraint and dignity” in the conduct of political debate in the chamber and in the various Knesset committees.
But the prediction by pundits that this Knesset will be an especially fractious one seemed to be confirmed in its first official action, the election of a Speaker. Labor, whose candidate for the job was former Police Minister Shlomo Hillel, demanded a secret ballot instead of a handcount. Likud’s Dov Shilansky rejected this on grounds of precedent. Burg ruled that the tradition of an open vote, while not binding, favored the Likud view. The vote was 61-56 in favor of Savidor, a veteran Liberal Party politician who, for the past few years, has been the Knesset observer at the Parliament of Europe in Strasbourg. He has also been active in the World Maccabi Union.