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Most Israeli Commentators Find No Swing to Right in Knesset Election Returns

October 31, 1969
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Most Israeli political commentators were in disagreement today with the prevailing interpretation of the national elections results in foreign newspapers. They maintained that the increase in Gahal (Herut-Liberal alignment) seats in the new, seventh Knesset did not reflect acceptance by the electorate of a hard line shift to the right on the question of the future of the occupied territories.

On the contrary, they said, the projected final results indicate that although the Labor Party-Mapam Alignment dropped from its absolute majority of 63 seats to 58, the nation had by its ballots given firm support to the foreign and security policies of the Laborites.

(A typical reaction to the outcome was expressed in the lead editorial of today’s New York Times which said that Premier Golda Meir “lost ground to proponents of a harder line. The vote reflects an ominous shift in Israeli public opinion toward the minority who favor outright annexation of occupied territories.”)

The premise of overseas new media, the commentators said, was that the decline in Labor-Mapam votes had been picked up by Gahal which favors permanent annexation and settlement of the occupied areas. They then discussed the supposed implications of such a shift in sentiment. Most political analysts however adopted a contrary view which by and large tallied with an editorial in the independent but normally pro-Labor Jerusalem Post.

The editorial said in part “the electorate voted for continuity of the existing division of power. While the Alignment did not retain its 63 seats, it lost at least two of them to (David) Ben Gurion’s State List made up largely of Rafi dissidents from Labor’s own camp. And while Gahal gained four or perhaps five seats, three were drawn from its own dissident Free Center faction for whom the election proved a devastating blow. Thus any shifts involve only two or perhaps three seats.”


Observers said that the added strength for Mr. Ben Gurion could hardly reflect a rightist drift since only last weekend he told the Paris press that Israel should, in the interests of peace, return all of the occupied territories except for East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. He also said Sharm el-Sheikh should be abandoned once a peace treaty was signed and free passage through the Strait of Tiran was assured. One factor which tended to cast doubt on the validity of Mr. Beigin’s views on public favor for a hard line on the territorial question was the inability of the newly-formed Land of Israel Party to gain a single seat. The party favors an outright expansionist policy.

A second main interpretation also accepted by most informed political observers was given by the independent newspaper Haaretz. This editorial said in part: “The Labor Alignment is headed by men who are identified with Israel’s accomplishments in the security and foreign policy field over the past two and one-half years. However, the public has given the Alignment carefully limited support because it fears the emergence of a colossus that might subjugate the country. On the other hand, there has not arisen a real alternative. The return of Gahal strength to what it had been before the breaking off of the Free Center is probably to be interpreted as reflecting the voters’ intention for a more balanced Knesset in the face of the Alignment’s formation.”

The Alignment consists of the Israel Labor Party and the leftist Mapam. The Labor Party itself represents a merger of the former Mapai, Achdut Haavodah and Rafi parties. Gahal won 27 seats, one more than it won in the 1965 election for the sixth Knesset; it concluded the last Knesset with 22 members after four dissidents seceded and formed the Free Center. In the vote on Tuesday, the Free Center headed by Shmuel Tamir dropped to one seat. Mr. Ben Gurion, whose one-man faction was called the State List, will end up with either three or four seats in the new parliament.


Menahem Beigin, the Herut leader who heads Gahal, was more sanguine about the meaning of the returns. He interpreted them as pointing to increased public acceptance of Gahal’s no-return policy on the territories and said they showed that the Knesset would now contain a majority “opposed to the re-partition of the Land of Israel.” He also indicated that he planned to exercise political leverage by announcing that his party need not enter into the broad-based national coalition to which Mrs. Meir committed Labor before the election, and if invited it would pose two main conditions. Mr. Beigin said that an agreed coalition program would have to be worked out in advance. The second condition would be that Gahal must be given Cabinet posts in accordance with its proportional strength. This was taken to mean that Gahal would not be satisfied with its present two posts of Minister Without Portfolio. At Labor-Mapam headquarters there was a feeling that the second condition might be tougher to fulfill than the first–that Gahal would demand five ministries. Moshe Kol of the Independent Liberals

Observers felt that the main stumbling block on the road to formation of a renewed grand coalition–Government of National Unity, as it is called–will not be questions of foreign policy and peace, for Gahal generally agrees with the stand taken before the formation of Mrs. Meir’s Government following the death this year of Premier Levi Eshkol. The principal division of opinion may occur instead over economic questions, which did not figure in any important way in the pre-election campaign, with the Marxist Mapam on one end of the coalition and the free enterprise Gahal on the other, analysts say.

The three main blocs–Labor, Gahal and religious–all claimed that the 120th seat, whose future was still in doubt in computer projections–would be theirs. The ballot counting was slow and was expected to be completed some time next week when all the soldiers’ and seamens’ votes are counted. The Land of Israel, Peace List and Young Israel factions have conceded that they did not reach the one percent of the total vote required to win a seat. Young Israel, a perennial also-ran, is a list of Oriental immigrants which has entered every election in the past 12 years but has never gotten one percent. Land of Israel got about .8 percent and Peace List got .45 percent.

President Zalman Shazar was expected to entrust Mrs. Meir with the formation of a Cabinet soon, even before final results are in. He may consult with the various parties on the basis of provisional returns but a new Cabinet does not assume power until given a vote of confidence by the new Knesset. The Knesset must meet within 14 days after the official announcement of the election results but not earlier than 14 days after the election.

Labor circles said today that Mrs. Meir would probably consult first with the National Religious Party. A great deal depends on the NRP stand on the formation of another National Unity Government. Without its participation, a coalition may have too small a majority to ensure reasonable stability, observers said. If the NRP refuses to enter a coalition without Gahal, the Labor-Mapam Alignment may have no chance to resist Gahal demands. In any case, the Alignment is not expected to abandon its firm insistence on direct negotiations aimed at a peace treaty ensuring secure and recognized boundaries and will not withdraw without a peace agreement with the Arabs.

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