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Speculation over Begin’s Role in Last Inning of Election Campaign

Election issues appeared to take second place today to speculation over whether former Premier Menachem Begin will indeed emerge from his self-imposed seclusion to campaign on behalf of Likud before the voters go to the polls next Monday. Asked if he would, in a brief telephone interview with a Kol Israel Radio reporter this morning. Begin said: “We’ll see in the next two days.”

His non-committal response elated Likud politicians who have been spreading the word during the past week that Begin, a formidable campaigner, will break his silence to help his party win the elections.

But Labor Alignment campaign manager Mordechai Gur maintained today that Begin’s entry into the campaign would be too late to have any effect on the election results. It is generally believed that Begin’s involvement, if any, would be in the form of a prerecorded message broadcast on television.

Begin has been a semi-recluse since his sudden retirement nearly a year ago. He has made no public appearances and has not attended Knesset sessions, even when matters crucial to the Likud government were up for a vote.

One theory advanced to account for his withdrawal from public life is that he is bitterly resentful of former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for having led, or misled him into the Lebanon embroglio. Begin flatly denied to the Kol Israel reporter today a widely circulated media report that he expressed his anger toward Sharon in a recent telephone conversation with a prominent lawyer.

According to The Jerusalem Post, it was “reliably learned” that Begin told the lawyer, with respect to Sharon, “Please don’t mention that name in my hearing.” Begin’s response today was that the report was “totally unfounded.” “I didn’t speak to any lawyer about Sharon,” he said. But he refused to reply when the Kol Israel reporter asked him if he was “angry with Sharon.”

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