JERUSALEM (Sep. 1)
Efforts to nominate a successor to Premier Menachem Begin continued in high gear today as Begin rejected requests by Herut Party leaders that he personally nominate his successor to avoid a bitter contest between Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Deputy Premier David Levy.
Begin reportedly told his Herut colleagues: “We live in a democracy and not in a monarchy in which the leadership is passed on in succession. There are institutes which are established in democratic elections and they will select the man they wish to see leading them.”
He is expected to submit his formal letter of resignation to President Chaim Herzog tomorrow morning. Begin has not yet made up his mind whether he will also resign from the Knesset, but some of his associates said that Begin will in all likelihood announce his resignation from the parliament and all political activities when he submits his resignation letter.
BALLOTING UNDER WAY
Meanwhile, the Ohel Shem hall in Tel Aviv was readied for the secret ballot voting tonight by the 900 members of the Herut central committee. The voting was delayed for more than an hour because the election chairman, Elkanan Vinitzky, was late in arriving and when he got there the rubber stamps required for the balloting could not be found. The voting was also delayed to allow for the arrival of two central committee members who were finally brought to the hall by ambulance accompanied by nurses.
A Herut spokesman said that Begin would not attend the voting because he was “weak and tired.” The results of the voting should be known before midnight. Until the actual voting began, the headquarters of Shamir and Levy remained open in an effort to sway central committee members to vote for their respective candidate.
There was no reliable estimate as to who would win and both the Shamir and Levy camps expressed optimism. At a meeting yesterday, the two contenders reached an agreement that whoever wins, the personnel structure of the Cabinet will be retained.
DIFFICULTIES FACING THE LIKUD
No matter who the winner is in tonight’s election there are serious fears in the Likud camp that he might face difficulties in keeping the old coalition intact. One obstacle which has already surfaced was the announcement by five Likud Knesset members that they would not join the new coalition government unless it pledged to form a government of national unity with the Labor Alignment.
The five are Yitzhak Berman, Dror Seigerman and Menachem Savidor of the Liberal Party wing, and Yigael Hurwitz and Mordechai Ben-Porat of Telem.
Should these five defect, the new Likud government would have only 59 seats in the 120-member Knesset, two short of a majority. The possible defection of these five MKs is not being taken lightly in view of the defection last year by two other Likud MKs, Amnon Lin and Yitzhak Peretz. They jointed the Labor Alignment and thus made Labor the largest party in the Knesset.
If the outgoing Likud administration cannot agree on a new list of at least 61 Knesset members to form a new government, Herzog might very well give the Alignment a chance to form the new government. Even if the Likud manages to keep its present component factions intact, there may still be a need to renegotiate a new agreement within the coalition.
DEMANDS BY OTHER PARTIES
The Aguda has already indicated that it wants firm assurances that the old coalition would remain, now that Begin is no longer at its helm. The Tami Party, whose secretariat last week voted to quit the government unless the economic policies were geared more closely to meet the needs of low income groups, might continue to insist on those changes as the price for remaining in the new coalition.
The Liberal Party might demand a redistribution of Cabinet portfolios, starting with the post of Deputy Premier, which belonged to the late Simcha Ehrlich. Several Liberal Party members have already contacted the Labor Alignment to discuss switching allegiances. Alignment sources said this was not really a form of defection from the Likud but merely the result of “some Liberals having second thoughts about where they belong, in the wake of the war in Lebanon and concessions made by the Likud to the religious parties.”
Hopes for a government of national unity have not been ruled out by the National Religious Party and Tami. The NRP, despite its allegiance to the coalition, has set an overall goal of bringing the Alignment into the coalition after it is formed by the Likud.
However, there is little enthusiasm for a national unity government in Alignment ranks. Younger elements in Mapam, an Alignment partner, have threatened to leave the Alignment if it agrees to a national unity government. The small Shinui movement has also ridiculed such an idea, saying it would be a national paralysis government.
BITTERNESS IN THE CAMPAIGN
Meanwhile, during the day today some bitterness developed in the Shamir-Levy campaign. Maariv quoted Ariel Sharon, the former Defense Minister who is now Minister Without Portfolio, as saying he would not serve in a government led by Levy. He reportedly said he would rather ally himself with the ultra-nationalist Tehiya Party.
All the seven Herut Cabinet ministers reportedly support Shamir. Both he and Levy have been close to Begin over the years. The friendship between Begin and Shamir goes back to the pre-State days, despite the fact that Shamir was a leader of the Stern Group and Begin led the Irgun. Although the two men parted ways during those underground days, their views have remained similar on foreign and defense issues.
The real split between Begin and Shamir occurred when Shamir abstained on the vote to approve the Camp David accords. But this did not hinder Begin from appointing him Foreign Minister in 1979, when Moshe Dayan resigned from the government.
Levy, 45, has always been a Begin protege. He immigrated to Israel from Morocco at the age of 20 and went through a difficult period of life in the development town of Beit Shean. He was once jailed for 12 days after running amok at the local employment office, demanding proper employment. Levy was at first considered a drawing card for the Sephardic voters, but over the years he has gained respect from all segments of the Israeli electorate as an up and coming leader.
The Herut central committee, therefore, faces a choice between the old leadership of the underground days or turning a new leaf and electing a person who could become the first Sephardic Premier of Israel.