Premier Golda Meir’s Labor Party, struggling with the worst crisis in its history, was at odds today over whether the government should resign en bloc or simply reshuffle Cabinet portfolios eliminating Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. The immediate aim is to avoid a no confidence vote when the Knesset meets in extraordinary special session Thursday, which would topple the government and make new elections unavoidable. One solution proposed over the weekend was for Mrs. Meir’s government to resign and reform itself immediately with the Defense portfolio allotted to someone else.
While Mrs. Meir and some top party leaders have not totally rejected that course, they are not especially enthusiastic about dismembering their hard won coalition and trying to put it together again without new elections. The preference tonight seemed to be to keep the Cabinet intact while re-distributing key posts in it. But such a move could lead to the defection of Dayan’s former Rafi faction which would destroy the government, if not the party, and lead to new elections.
Consultations went on all day and into the night among the Labor ministers, the powerful Tel Aviv-based Labor Party group known as “Gush,” the Mapam Executive Committee and the Independent Liberals. The other coalition partner, the National Religious Party, has maintained discreet silence up to now. A meeting of Labor ministers with the party’s Knesset faction scheduled for this evening to take a final decision was postponed because of the late hour and probably will be held tomorrow when the Cabinet is also scheduled to meet.
Meanwhile, a group of Labor ministers, including Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir and Justice Minister Haim Zadok, accompanied by Party Secretary General Aharon Yadlin, met with Rafi leader Shimon Peres, the Minister of Information. Dayan was not present. The Labor ministers reportedly proposed an internal reshuffle on the understanding that Dayan would relinquish the Defense portfolio though not necessarily leave the government.
The latest crisis was precipitated by the Agranat Committee’s partial report, released last week, which blamed the military high command for Israel’s lack of preparedness when the Yom Kippur War broke out but absolved the political leadership, particularly Dayan, of blame. The committee’s report touched off charges of “whitewash” and demands in the Knesset and among the public that the principle of ministerial responsibility be upheld. Dayan was the main target.
PROPOSE CABINET RESIGN, RE-FORM MINUS DAYAN
Proposals that the entire Cabinet resign and re-form without Dayan surfaced over the weekend after it became apparent that Mrs. Meir could not bring herself to ask the Defense Minister for his resignation. She and Dayan met Friday. Dayan reportedly asked her directly if she wanted his resignation, a question he had put to her four months ago at the end of the Yom Kippur War. This time the Premier did not give him a clear -cut “no” but said she would put the matter before the party for a decision.
The situation became complicated when the Rafi faction decided that the question was a political matter rather than Dayan’s personal problem. It agreed that the entire Cabinet resign and re-form itself with portfolios changing hands. But Rafi would not agree to any changes prior to the government’s resignation. Other party factions insisted, however, that the government could not resign unless its new composition is made clear beforehand. Rafi countered with the demand that the party’s three components–Mapai, Achdut Avoda and Rafi–convene to choose, first of all, a new Prime Minister and then fill other key Cabinet posts.
Mrs. Meir acknowledged that her own-position was shaky. She was reportedly warned Saturday by Haifa Mayor Joseph Almogi, the former Labor Minister, that “They will not stop with Dayan. It is you they are after.” To which Mrs, Meir replied,” You’re telling me?”
The dilemma faced by the Labor Party is that a majority vote forcing Dayan’s resignation could lead to defection by Rafi which would vote against the government in the Knesset showdown, precipitating its downfall. In that case, new elections would have to be called for, probably next Oct., with the present regime serving as a care-taker government.
Sapir and other party leaders have expressed fear that in such a situation the National Religious Party would again refuse to join a new coalition unless the Who is a Jew issue is resolved according to Orthodox demands. They also fear that irresistible pressure would build up for a national unity regime embracing Likud, a situation that, according to the Labor Party leadership, would mean a government united in paralysis at a time of fateful negotiations with the Arabs.
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