Threat Fails to Convince Shamir It is Time to Hold New Elections

Exuding confidence in the Likud-led government’s stability and its ability to weather looming domestic and foreign policy crises, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared Monday that he is opposed to early elections and believes the present Knesset should serve out its statutory four-year term.

Shamir spoke to reporters only hours before the 30-member executive committee of the far-right Moledet party was to meet at an undisclosed location in Tel Aviv to hear its leader, Rehavam Ze’evi, urge an immediate break with the Likud government.

Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio who joined the Cabinet barely two months ago at Shamir’s invitation, is threatening to quit because the prime minister refuses to consider his prescription for ending the intifada.

The Moledet platform calls for the “transfer” — a euphemism for expulsion — of the Arab population from the administered territories.

The loss of its two Knesset seats would reduce the coalition’s parliamentary majority to 64 seats out of 120 While that is hardly fatal, it is a somewhat less comfortable margin, considering that either of two Orthodox parties, Shas or Agudat Yisrael, would be in a position to bring the government down.

Nevertheless, Shamir prefers not to address the Moledet the Moledet threat directly. His aides said earlier that if Ze’evi wanted a meeting to discuss his complaints about the government’s handling of the intifada, Shamir would see him.

Meanwhile, Shamir instructed Likud Knesset members Tzahi Hanegbi to withdraw a private members bill calling for dissolution of the 12th Knesset, which was elected in 1988.

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Political observers said Shamir’s attitude reflects confidence that increasingly strained relations with Washington will not weaken Likud’s standing with the electorate by the time elections are due in November 1992.

The prime minister told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that it is “inconceivable” to him that the United States would link the absorption of Soviet immigrants to Israel’s position on the peace process or to its policy of expanding Jewish settlements.

Shamir also appeared confident that by the time elections are held, the twin crises of unemployment and lack of housing for immigrants will have been resolved.

But some Likud politicians are less sanguine about those problems. They would like to dissolve the Knesset now and hold elections this fall, a year early.

They reason that an election campaign this summer would effectively “freeze” the peace process and the related disputes with Washington. At the same time, Likud and its allies could try to convince the voters that the economic and absorption problems are on the verge of solution.

The opposition Labor Party also appears to be divided over early elections. While party leader Shimon Peres is said to favor an early ballot, his chief rival, Yitzhak Rabin, prefers to wait.

Rabin is said to want to push an election reform bill through the Knesset, so that the next elections would be held under a system providing for a separate vote for prime minister. He seems to think his personal popularity would carry him to the highest office, regardless of which party won the most Knesset seats.

But seasoned politicians told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday that there is little hope for electoral reform at this stage. Likud is not wholeheartedly behind it and has promised its religious partners not to support reform without their approval.

The small parties are not likely to approve, because reform would strip them of the political power they now enjoy, far out of proportion to their numerical strength.

As proponents of reform stress, a directly elected prime minister would not have to make concessions to the minority factions to form a government.

At the moment, dissolution of the Knesset also seems unlikely. It would require an agreement between Likud and Labor, since neither of the big parties could muster a majority with their respective allies.

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