Begin’s Decision to Resign is Final, but Postpones Submitting Resignation Letter to the President

Premier Menachem Begin announced today that his decision to resign is final because “I simply cannot bear the responsibility any longer.” He thus rejected intensive efforts by his Likud coalition partners to persuade him to change his mind. But his colleagues did convince him to postpone submitting a formal letter of resignation to President Chaim Herzog which would make his resignation legally binding.

There was no indication as to how long it would be before Begin submits the letter, but it was assumed he would do so as soon as all the coalition partners agree on his successor. Begin apparently wants to avert a situation in which the President would ask the Labor Alignment to try and form a new government. If all the coalition partners agree beforehand on the new candidate for Premiership, the President would have no choice but to ask that person to form the new government.

Begin’s final decision today ended two days of intensive consultations and speculation about the Premier’s intention to resign. The Premier first announced his move at the end of a routine Cabinet session Sunday, catching the ministers and the nation by surprise.

Until the last minute of the consultations this afternoon at the Premier’s office it was not clear whether Begin would in the end give in to the pressure to remain in office. But as the three-hour consultations ended, Begin said he was determined to resign.

BEGIN EXPLAINS WHY HE IS RESIGNING

Begin said he was moved by the statements and appeals of the Cabinet ministers and other key officials of the coalition parties to get him to reverse his decision. “I would like to stress that I do not blame anybody for my resignation,” Begin said.

He then disclosed for the first time the reason for his decision: “I simply cannot bear the responsibility any longer. If I believed that there would be a chance to continue, I would have considered it differently. It was not a sudden decision. I am asking you to allow me to present my letter of resignation to the President today.” He then asked those present to continue to serve as a unified coalition after his resignation.

MOVES TO GET BEGIN TO RECONSIDER

But Begin’s desperate plea was rejected. Yaacov Meridor, Minister for Economic Coordination, a long time friend of Begin, said, “I turn down your request, Mr. Prime Minister.” Begin responded, “Okay, I will do it then without your consent.” He then began to write his letter, mumbling toward Meridor, “Yaacov, it will not help you.”

As the letter was sent to an adjacent room to be typed, Justice Minister Moshe Nissim was the first to suggest that Begin postpone formally resigning. “This is much too serious a decision,” he said. “Give us time out for several months.”

Aguda Knesset member Menachem Porush suggested that perhaps the upcoming High Holy Days would give Begin a chance to rethink his decision. But former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Tehiya MK Geula Cohen, and Haim Druckman of the Matzad (Religious Zionist) Party said the time was ripe for new elections.

AN ACCEPTABLE FORMULA

Finally, Finance Minister Yoram Aridor proposed a formula that was accepted. He reminded Begin that even if he resigns he would still have to head the caretaker government until an alternative government is formed. Therefore, Aridor suggested, Begin should remain in office until a new coalition is formed which would allow “a smooth and comfortable transition.” Begin accepted this suggestion, but he stressed that this could not be a prolonged process.

A suggestion to immediately sign a draft agreement by all the coalition partners to continue under the new Premier the Herut movement would designate was dropped when Cohen and Aguda MK Avraham Shapiro objected. It was decided therefore, that all Herut ministers would meet this evening to name their candidate for the Premiership.

Should the Herut Party fail to agree on a candidate and should the coalition partners decline to accept that person if a candidate is named, the likelihood is that there would have to be new elections. “No government, whether headed by Begin, another Likud person, or the Alignment, can continue to govern without new elections,” Cohen said.

Shortly after the session with the coalition representatives ended, Begin left his office. He made no statement to reporters and entered his car and went home. When he arrived, a crowd of supporters cheered him. But again, Begin made no remarks and disappeared inside the house. Police kept demonstrators in support and in opposition to Begin separated and at a safe distance from the Premier’s residence.

THE TASK OF FINDING A SUCCESSOR

Meanwhile, senior Likud ministers continued a session at the Premier’s office to try to find a successor. Avraham Shapiro, chairman of the coalition, said the political situation after Begin resigns would be “different.” He said that all talk that the coalition has agreed to unite behind the candidacy of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir was premature.

“Herut has a number of candidates,” Shapiro said. He added that his party would refuse to sign a blank check for a Likud coalition candidate for the Premiership without knowing in advance who the candidate is before it decides to accept him for that post.

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