JERUSALEM (Jan. 16)
With the fall of his coalition government all but inevitable, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is consulting with senior Likud figures on ways to keep the party in power as a transitional regime pending early elections.
Informed sources said that the prime minister will not be rushed into resigning before an election date is set. He plans to hold informal discussions on that subject, first with his coalition partners and then with the Labor opposition.
Elections are mandated by law no later than November. In view of the government crisis, political observers believe the parties will opt for a referendum in May or June.
The long-predicted fall of Shamir’s Likud-led coalition seemed certain after Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman announced on television Wednesday night that he was pulling his right-wing Tehiya party out of the government, depriving Shamir of its three Knesset votes.
Rehavam Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio, is expected to defect with his two-member Moledet party’s Knesset faction. The departure of both parties will deprive the government of its parliamentary majority, forcing Shamir to submit his resignation to President Chaim Herzog.
The dissenting ministers indicated they would resign formally at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. By law, their resignations become effective 48 hours later.
CONCERN ABOUT A LABOR MOVE
The two parties, which oppose the Arab-Israeli peace talks in principle, had warned well in advance that they would leave Shamir’s government if the bilateral negotiations in Washington touched on substantive matters, such as limited self-rule for the Palestinians.
Although Shamir insisted that did not occur this week, the two hard-liners were not convinced.
There was some uneasiness in Likud circles Thursday that if Shamir is forced to resign without the Knesset dissolved and an election date settled, Labor might try to set up an alternative government.
The law requires the president to consult with the various Knesset factions with a view to forming a new government if the prime minister resigns or if his government is defeated by a no-confidence vote in the Knesset.
But the consultations automatically cease as soon as the Knesset votes to dissolve itself. In that case, the existing government becomes a caretaker regime, remaining intact with all of its members.
Under Israeli law, ministers can neither resign from nor join a caretaker government Ne’eman and Ze’evi would be “trapped.”
Labor may try to bring down the Likud regime before the Knesset acts. It intends to introduce a no-confidence measure Monday, focusing on economic issues, especially rising unemployment, which it says was the “underlying reason” for the government’s collapse.