Government Weathers First Storm in the Knesset by a Wide Margin

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud government easily survived its first test in the Knesset on Monday.

Five no-confidence motions were defeated by a comfortable 60-51 margin, with five abstentions.

The Labor Party, which promised to be a fighting opposition, showed little fight, though the issues were politically potent. One dealt with the growing numbers of homeless Israelis, as the influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union drives up the price of housing beyond the means of low-income families.

The other objected to Defense Minister Moshe Arens’ decision to allow Jewish settlers in the West Bank towns of Kiryat Arba and Ariel to establish armed civil guards, a departure from past policy.

The only Knesset member to speak out with any passion was Ran Cohen of the leftist Citizens Rights Movement. He demanded to know what answer the prime minister had for young couples who now live in tents for lack of proper housing.

Is it “that he was too busy bribing Ephraim Gur?” Cohen asked, referring to the Labor Knesset member whose defection gave Likud the 62nd vote it needed to form a government. He charged that the government lost precious time delaying housing starts, thereby causing a rise in their cost.

Housing Minister Ariel Sharon accused the opposition of inciting the public, “in order to make doubtful political gains.” He said that instead of criticizing the government, it should help shoulder the burden “out of national responsibility.”

Labor Knesset member Nawaf Massalha charged that arming the West Bank settlers was like letting the cat guard the milk.

Arens responded that it was the duty of the government to give the local residents every means to protect themselves.

The government’s comfortable margin of victory in the Knesset set the stage for the opening of coalition talks between Likud and the Agudat Yisrael party. If the ultra-Orthodox Agudah joins the coalition, the government will have a 67-vote majority in the parliament.

Agudah’s four Knesset members abstained in Monday’s voting. The fifth abstention reportedly was cast accidentally by a Laborite.

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