JERUSALEM (May. 18)
Premier Menachem Begin’s narrowly based coalition government appeared in jeopardy today after two Likud Knesset members announced they were quitting the party. Amnon Lin and Yitzhak Peretz said they would vote with the opposition Labor Alignment on a no confidence motion in the Knesset tomorrow.
Lin and Peretz said their move reflected long-standing disenchantment with Likud but made it clear they were not joining the Labor Alignment. Their defection rests the fate of Begin’s government in the hands of two small opposition factions, Telem, founded by the late Moshe Dayan, and the ultra-nationalist Tehiya. Together they command five seats in parliament. Both factions were reportedly demanding major policy concessions from Begin in exchange for their support.
The Tehiya secretariate decided last night to vote against the government but it was scheduled to meet again tonight for a final decision. Tehiya bitterly opposed Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. It had voted against the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979. It is now said to be seeking commitments from Begin that would tighten Israel’s grip over the occupied territories.
Telem, on the other hand, wants Israel to impose autonomy unilaterally on the West Bank and Gaza Strip if no agreement can be reached with Egypt or the Palestinians. This was proposed by Dayan when he was Foreign Minister in Begin’s first administration, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by Likud. Telem MK Mordechai Ben-Porat said today that his party would support whichever bloc seemed most likely to implement the Dayan plan.
KNESSET BALANCE COULD BE REVERSED
The dependence of the Likud regime on parties representing only a small fraction of the electorate stems from its precarious one-vote margin in the Knesset. Likud, together with the two religious parties that comprise Begin’s coalition command 61 votes in the 120-member parliament.
The Labor Alignment and the opposition splinter parties on both left and right have 59 votes. With Lin and Peretz voting against the government, the Knesset balance would be reversed with the opposition commanding a 61-59 majority.
But this would not necessarily mean a new government led by Labor. Political observers pointed out today that it was far from certain that the Labor Alignment would retain the support of all of the factions that might join it in the no-confidence motion, or of Lin and Peretz.
Both Likud defectors are political hawks, as are the two Telem MKs. Tehiya is far to the right of Begin himself on most issues. The Aguda Israel and the National Religious Party, which hold 10 Knesset seats between them, have made it clear that they could not join a Labor-led coalition government under present circumstances. Both Orthodox factions have extracted major concessions to religion from Begin which the secular Laborites are not likely to match.
It appeared, therefore, that if the government is defeated tomorrow, early elections would be inevitable. Likud nevertheless, was jolted by the defections of Lin and Peretz and accused them of accepting political bribes from the opposition. The two MKs were not, however, original disciples of Begin. Both began their political careers in Mapai.
They joined the late Premier David Ben Gurion when he broke with Mapai and formed the Rafi faction of Labor. When Rafi split in later years, they became members of the State List, one of several break-away factions. The State List joined Likud in the 1977 elections which unseated the Labor Party.
NOT A SPUR OF THE MOMENT DECISION
Lin called a press conference today to explain his move and to reply to charges by Begin and other Likud leaders that he had surrendered to bribes. He said his decision to break with the coalition was not taken on the spur of the moment. He said he had been made to feel like an outcast in the party and charged that "associates of the Premier incited various elements to hurt him physically."
According to Lin, his disenchantment with Likud derived in part from its persistent dredging up of past quarrels with Labor and incitement against Labor Alignment leaders.
"I was among those who helped shatter the hatred for Menachem Begin, but I’m afraid that we are returning to the days of hatred," Lin said. The MK, who once headed Mapai’s Department of Arab Affairs, also accused the government of failure to adopt a policy of encouraging moderates among Israeli Arabs. He said the Alignment had promised to follow such a policy. He also said he was angered by Likud’s surrender to the religious parties.