TEL AVIV (May. 21)
The question of whether the Likud alliance of Herut and the Liberal Party can hold itself together until the July 23 elections became a cliff-hanger today. It remained unresolved after 24 hours of urgent meetings between leaders of the two factions and a stormy session of the Liberal Party Central Committee last night.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s last minute cancellation of plans to address the Liberal Central Committee today indicated that a break is inevitable. But only a few hours earlier the Liberals had reportedly acquiesced to Herut demands for reduced representation on the Likud election list and an eventual merger of the two parties. Political observers therefore are hedging their bets.
According to Deputy Premier David Levy, an agreement to preserve the alliance was reached yesterday at a meeting he attended with Herut Secretary General Yoram Aridor and two Liberal ministers, Yitzhak Modai and Moshe Nissim.
Liberal representation in the Likud election list would be reduced from 18 candidates in the first 48 slots to 16 in the first 50. There would be 12 Liberals in the top 40, presumably safe spots on the ticket and four more in the next 10 places, Levy said.
He claimed the agreement would lead to full unification of Herut and the Liberal Party within Likud and that the small Laam faction would also be incorporated for a totally united party.
LARGER NUMBER OF LIBERALS BALKING
But if such a deal was in fact made, a large number of Liberals were balking. One Central Committee member, Sigalet Pri’el, went so far as to seek a temporary court injunction to bar the Central Committee from voting on the agreement. Pri’el was acting for a group of Liberals who insist that the party’s General Council, not the Central Committee, has the authority to approve an agreement with Herut. But the Central Committee met at 6 p.m.
Modai, who is Energy Minister, surprised his colleagues — and Herut — by stating before the Central Committee last night that he opposed any reduction in the Liberal’s representation on the Likud ticket and suggested that the party should go to the July elections on its own. His remarks drew enthusiastic applause.
But another meeting was held at noon today in the Prime Minister’s Office with Shamir, Levy and Aridor, joined by Likud MK Ronni Milo, and Modai and Justice Minister Nissim representing the Liberals. At that meeting, according to reports leaked to the press, the Liberals disputed the Herut claim that an agreement on all points had been reached the previous day.
Levy accused Modai of backtracking. The upshot was that Shamir decided there was no point for him to appear before the Liberal Central Committee as intended. The Liberals themselves are split. Apart, possibly, from Modai, the Liberal Cabinet ministers are anxious to preserve the Likud alliance. They were accused by Likud Liberal Mayor Shlomo Lehat of Tel Aviv of being more interested in keeping their Cabinet seats than the future of their party.