JERUSALEM (Jun. 25)
While the victorious Labor Party plunged into the task of building a coalition government, a defeated, dispirited Likud appeared on the verge of crumbling.
Moshe Arens, defense minister in the outgoing government, announced Thursday night that he was resigning from the Knesset and from national politics after an 18-year career.
Appearing on Israel Television’s evening news show, Arens, a former ambassador to the United States, said he had thought about quitting for a long time but conceded that Likud’s poor showing in Tuesday’s elections influenced his decision.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who has hinted that his own resignation is not far off, promptly expressed regret and said he would try to persuade his longtime political ally to reconsider.
Arens said he would certainly listen, but added: “I’ve made my decision.”
His resignation is expected to take effect when the new government is installed, probably on July 13, when the newly elected Knesset begins its first session.
Meanwhile, the Labor Party’s leadership bureau convened Thursday for the first time since the elections and appointed a 17-member negotiating team to form a new coalition.
The offices at the old 110 Hayarkon St. party headquarters in Tel Aviv were packed to overflowing with party leaders and activists.
In a tough, no-nonsense speech, party Chairman Yitzhak Rabin reiterated that only authorized representatives of the party could conduct negotiations with possible coalition partners.
RELIGIOUS PARTIES BEING CONSIDERED
He also stated that he intended to use fully his powers as prime minister. The government cannot function efficiently unless the prime minister is in full charge, he said.
That comment was interpreted as a warning to his old rival Shimon Peres that Rabin would not tolerate factional power politics.
But Peres supporters had already decided not to function as a separate political camp in the party. They had only to see the bitter factionalism rending Likud.
Knesset member Avraham Burg, a Peres supporter, said Thursday that the days of the political camps are over.
Peres and Rabin were scheduled to meet privately soon to try to work out a pattern for coexistence in the new government. Although Peres said he was not asking for a Cabinet portfolio, associates say he would not turn down the Defense, Foreign or Finance ministries, all posts he has held in the past.
The party’s leadership bureau unanimously elected the first 12 names on Labor’s Knesset list and five others to constitute the coalition negotiating team.
Party Secretary-General Micha Harish said Thursday that the left-wing Meretz and the strictly Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties would be the first candidates for coalition partners.
But he said that in his view, Labor should also consider Rafael Eitan’s far-right Tsomet party, which is avowedly secular and campaigns on a good-government, anti-corruption platform.
Meanwhile, the Council of Sages which governs the United Torah Judaism party gave it the green light Thursday to join a Labor-led coalition. Its only condition was that the other religious parties join as well.
Shulamit Aloni, the leader of Meretz, and Rabbi Menachem Porush of United Torah Judaism said on the radio Thursday that they could cooperate in a Rabin-led coalition.
SHAMIR MAY BE NEXT TO GO
Meanwhile, the retiring Arens listed three reasons for Likud’s debacle:
First, the party was plagued by internal disputes, while Labor “learned the lessons of the past and presented the voter with a facade of internal unity.”
Second, part of the public does not see Greater Israel as a “sufficient solution” to the Palestinian problem.
And third, the economy did not register “sufficient growth” by the eve of the election.
Arens called on his party to “learn its lessons” but stopped short of suggesting that any of its leaders resign.
Asked whom he would support for the leadership, Arens replied that there were “many good people, perhaps that’s our trouble — we’ve got so many good people in the Likud.”
But some, he added, are “too ambitious.”
The party, ousted after 15 years in power, will undoubtedly do some soul-searching, even though Shamir maintained that a housecleaning is not needed.
The prime minister reiterated Thursday that the time has come for him to step down as Likud’s leader. He said he would soon quit, but he gave no date.
Speaking in a philosophical vein to a rally of policemen in Jerusalem, he said election defeats “were part of political life.”