JERUSALEM (Mar. 23)
Premier Menachem Begin is strongly resisting pressure within Likud for the government to resign in the wake of Laborite Chaim Herzog’s defeat of coalition candidate Menachem Elon for the Presidency of Israel in the Knesset yesterday.
Herzog’s 61-57 victory was clearly the result of defections by seven coalition MKs who cannot be identified because the vote was by secret ballot. Begin urged his Likud supporters today to forget the indignity of defeat as quickly as possible and exhorted them not even to consider the idea of resigning or forcing early elections. Likud’s term of office expires in 1985.
LIKUD LOYALISTS ARE FURIOUS
But many staunch Likud loyalists are furious over what they regard as a betrayal by some coalition members who, they fear, cannot be trusted to support the government in the future. MKs Ronni Milo and Eliahu Ben-Elissar, both of Likud’s Herut faction, have called for the break-up of the coalition and new elections.
Milo announced last night that he was resigning as deputy chairman of the coalition Knesset faction because the coalition could not function in an atmosphere of distrust. But Begin, though visibly stunned when the election results were announced yesterday, has taken a philosophical view. “C’est La Vie”, he is reported to have remarked to his colleagues soon after the vote.
He told Likud MKs that their response to the defeat should be to recognize that it was part of the democratic process and to send their best wishes to President-elect Herzog. The Likud Knesset faction formally offered its congratulations at a late session last night.
WILL NOT SEEK EARLY ELECTIONS
Begin’s aides said today that he will not seek early elections without the consent of all of his coalition partners. At least two, the National Religious Party and Tami, are fearful that early elections would be disastrous for them.
Begin is also said to be concerned that if he resigns, forcing early elections, some of Likud’s coalition partners anxious not to go to the polls at this time, would bolt and set up an alternative coalition with the Labor Alignment. Such a move could establish a Labor-led government without elections.
COALITION DEFECTORS CALLED ‘RENEGADES’
That concern is believed to be uppermost on the minds of most Likud MKs because of the coalition defections. Likud loyalists have branded them “renegades.” Their suspicions are directed at the smaller coalition parties although one or two members of Likud’s Liberal Party faction are believed to be among the seven defectors.
One theory heard in the Knesset lobby today was that some of the defectors were NRP members who supported Herzog as a gesture of appreciation for Labor’s support of the NRP-backed candidates for Chief Rabbi in last week’s Chief Rabbinate elections. That possibility has raised fears that the NRP may be on the way to restoring its old alliance with Labor which it broke off shortly before the 1977 Knesset elections.