JERUSALEM (Aug. 22)
The Labor Alignment and the Yahad Party led by Ezer Weizman signed an agreement today in which Weizman committed his three-seat party to support a government headed by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and in which Weizman was given the option of three safe seats on Labor’s ticket in the next election.
The signing was the final stroke of Weizman’s dramatic move this week which has radically altered the post-election deadlock and substantially improved Labor’s chances of leading a government. Earlier, Weizman met privately with Premier Yitzhak Shamir and explained to him his reasons for tilting towards Labor.
Weizman, once regarded as Likud’s heir apparent to former Premier Menachem Begin but who quit the Cabinet in protest against Begin’s hardline toward Palestinian autonomy, said today after his meeting with Shamir that he had urged the Premier to bring his Likud bloc into a unity government under Labor.
However, if Shamir did not do so, Weizman said he would indeed favor a narrow-based government under Labor.
MOVES BY OTHER SMALL PARTIES
Yigael Hurvitz, leader of the one-man Knesset faction, Courage to Cure the Economy, who has coordinated his moves with Weizman’s, said in a TV interview last night that he was deeply convinced that the nation needed a unity government. But he, too, made it clear that he would be prepared to join a narrow-based Labor-led government “if Likud illogically rejects Shimon Peres’ (unity) offer.”
Political sources close to Labor said a third pivotal party, Tami, with one Knesset seat, was also coordinating its move with Weizman and Hurvitz and would adopt a similar stand at the meeting of its secretariat in Tel Aviv tomorrow. Tami’s leader, MK Aharon Abu Hatzeira, is abroad and is scheduled to return home tonight.
DESPONDENCY IN LIKUD
The Weizman-Hurvitz move has caused despondency in Likud where Shamir and other leaders accuse Weizman of reducing the chances of a unity government. Likud sources did not deny that the Weizman-Hurvitz move was a severe setback for their party’s chances of leading a government — particularly if Tami joins the two.
In the short-term the Weizman-Hurvitz and likely Tami move is expected to ensure that President Chaim Herzog will give Peres an additional 21 days on Sunday if he has not put together a government by then. Pere’s first 21-day period expires Sunday.
Labor sources said today that Mapam, the partner in the Alignment, believed that now with Weizman’s swinging over to Labor there was no further need to talk about a unity government; that Labor should set up a narrow-based government–even a minority government — as a first stage, if need be, resting on the passive support of Hadash with its four Knesset seats and the Progressive List for Peace with its two Knesset seats. In the agreement signed today, offering Weizman three safe seats on Labor’s ticket in the next election, Mapam allocated one of its six seats in the future Alignment list to a Yahad member — if Weizman takes up the option–and Labor allocated two of its seats.
But Labor sources insisted that Mapam’s sacrifice did not guarantee there would be no unity government. These sources said Peres made no such commitment to Mapam, that Peres still ardently desired a unity government, and that a narrow-based government would still be very hard to put together. There is plainly no enthusiasm in Labor circles, nor in Yahad, for the idea of a minority government resting on passive Communist votes.
POSITIONS OF THE NRP AND AGUDA
The immidiate outlook, in the days ahead, is for Labor, having received an additional 21 days, to assiduously woo the two key religious parties–the National Religious Party and Agudat Israel — to support a government (wide or narrow) under Labor leadership.
The NRP has already emitted some signals that it might reconsider an alliance with Labor once it becomes perfectly clear that Likud has no more hope of setting up a government of its own. Aguda signals, however, are conflicting. Last night, its two MKs spoke on TV of “reconsidering” leaving the Likud bloc in favor of Labor, but today they backed off, in radio interviews, explaining that the party’s mentor, Rabbi Eliezer Schach, has instructed them to remain allied with Likud for the time being.
Observers believe Weizman had the religious parties in mind when he warned today that failure to form a government — unity or narrow– would result in early elections, “perhaps as early as 1985.”
His implication was that while Yahad, with three safe seats on the Alignmnt list, could not lose from an early election, the NRP and Aguda could continue their downward plunge in the number of their Knesset seuts and ought, therefore to take action to prevent the need for an early election. The NRP, which had six seats in the previous Knesset, now has four; Aguda, which had four seats, now has two.
WEIZMAN SEEKING BROADER BASE
Weizman is clearly seeking to broaden his standing as the leader of a centrist-liberal grouploosely attached to the Labor Alignment. The agreement today constituted the formation of a parliamentary bloc between Labor and Yahad. But the agreement contains an option for a full merger if Weizman so chooses.
The Yahad leader spoke today of “the start of a process of changing the Israeli political scene.” He seemed to be hinting at his longer-range plans of establishing himself as the leader of a centrist-moderate bloc, perhaps embracing Shinui, some members of the Liberal Party, and Yahad itself.