Prospects of Liberal-herut Merger Suffer Severe Setback

Prospects of a merger between the Liberal Party and its Likud partner, Herut, suffered a severe setback today when the Liberals’ internal court ruled that the party’s Central Committee had no authority to decide the matter.

The Central Committee was scheduled to meet April 16 to vote on two proposals for a merger and one against. Now a decision will have to await the Liberal Party convention which, though long overdue, is not expected to convene in the immediate future. Political observers said that the court’s decision rendered merger a dead issue and that Herut, which has been pressing hard for it, will probably abandon the idea.

Merger was favored by most Liberal ministers and by the party’s Knesset faction. It was strongly opposed by many prominent Liberals who threatened to secede and form their own faction if it occurred. Their argument was that the larger, and notably more hawkish Herut would swamp the centrist Liberals and leave no room for ideological moderates.

It was this group, head by Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, and Shlomo Lehat, the popular Mayor of Tel Aviv, who appealed to the party’s internal court for a ruling on the Central Committee’s authority to act on the issue.

The Central Committee had before it a proposal for an early merger, drafted by Justice Minister Moshe Nissim in consultation with Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, a rapidly rising power in Herut.

Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai, while favoring a merger with Herut, offered a counter-proposal by which it would be effected gradually, over a considerable period of time. Modai apparently expected the anti-merger faction to be defeated in the Central Committee and believed it would then support his proposal as the least objectionable from their point of view.

But Dulzin, one of the original signers of the Gahal agreement 20 years ago which brought the Liberals and Herut into a loose alliance, the forerunner of Likud, said Monday that he could not support a merger. He observed that the Herut party under Menachem Begin two decades ago was “very different from the post-Begin Herut party” of today.

Another anti-merger Liberal, former Deputy Finance Minister Yehezkel Flumin, charged that the proponents of merger “have sold the party’s principles for seats and positions.” Most political observers were convinced that the threat of secession by these and other Liberals was not a bluff and would indeed take place if the two Likud components merged. Lehat conceded that secession was risky but said he was confident a new Liberal faction would make a good showing in the next elections.

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