Knesset, by 70-17 Vote, Backs Government’s Emergency Economic Plan

The Knesset, under strict coalition discipline, handed Premier Shimon Peres and Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai a substantial victory today when it voted 70-17 to approve the emergency economic program adopted by a Cabinet majority yesterday. There were three abstentions.

All but one of the seven Likud ministers who opposed the austerity program during the 20-hour marathon Cabinet session dutifully voted for it today. The exception was Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, who absented himself from the chamber during the vote.

Supporting votes were cast by Minister of Commerce Ariel Sharon, Labor Minister Moshe Katzav and Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, among others. Arens and Katzav explained to the Likud Knesset faction before the vote that while they are critical of elements of the economic program, they were duty-bound as Cabinet members to back the government.

Rank-and-file coalition dissidents included Yisrael Kessar, a Labor MK who is Secretary General of Histadrut and Yaacov Shammai, leader of Likud’s minority faction in Histadrut. Both were absent during the vote. Likud MK David Magen voted against the government, triggering demands from both major parties that he be disciplined for breaching coalition unity. Magan is politically close to Sharon.

Modai, who addressed the convention of the American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI) here later in the day, disclosed that talks would begin tomorrow between government and Histadrut leaders over compensation for wage-earners. Modai’s emergency program calls for reduced cost-of-living increments.

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