Premier Golda Meir issued her formal resignation today in a speech to the Knesset. Earlier she returned her mandate to President Ephraim Katzir during a half-hour audience at the Presidential residence. Addressing a hushed Knesset meeting which had just received a report on the terrorist carnage in Kiryat Shemona, Mrs. Meir stated: “Since the recent Knesset elections I have been watching closely developments in the country and I have reached the conclusion that there is a public unrest which cannot be avoided, whether it is justified or not.”
Mrs. Meir said the public should have the right to study the possibility of a new government and observed that although the present government was resigning, the interim government was capable of handling the situation and the army was prepared to cope with all challenges. She concluded her statement with a call to the nation “to behave not like a stricken people but like a people with a future open before it.”
The special Knesset session was originally called to discuss the Agranat Committee’s report, and the Likud had intended to propose a vote of no confidence in the government. However, with the turn of events the session turned into a public debate on Israel’s internal crisis and external dangers.
While the Knesset was packed with legislators, guests and reporters, demonstrators stood in front of the main Knesset gate and booed Knesset members as they entered the building. The crowd of 200 demonstrators were part of a crowd of 1000 which gathered earlier at the Valley of the Cross at the bottom of the Knesset hill to demand greater democracy in Israeli political parties and the government.
SEEK NEW CANDIDATE TO HEAD GOVERNMENT
After Mrs. Meir returned her mandate to Katzir the President read her resignation statement to waiting newsmen, translating it into English for American media. He said he would begin consultations immediately with the various parties to select a candidate to head a new government. He said Mrs. Meir had informed him that she would not be a candidate. President Katzir told the reporters that he had conveyed to Mrs. Meir the deep feelings of honor and respect that the entire nation felt for her.
Katzir spoke of her immense contributions to the national renaissance which, he said, could not yet be fully appreciated and esteemed. He said that a deep sense of responsibility for the future of the State had guided Mrs. Meir’s every action throughout her long career and had prompted her to shoulder the heaviest burdens of leadership. She has set an example of responsibility and mature leadership, Katzir said, adding the hope that Israel would emerge from the present crisis “strengthened seven-fold.”
Mrs. Meir’s formal act of resignation followed a special Cabinet meeting at which she informed her ministers of her intention to resign–a formality required by Israeli law. The Cabinet was in session for two hours. An official communique stated that it had concluded its discussion of the Agranat Committee’s report on events leading up to the Yom Kippur War.
With the prospect of new elections looming large, the various grass roots protest movements that have been building up in reaction to the Yom Kippur War coalesced last night into a single movement and selected Yochai Bin-Noon, a former naval commander and national hero as its leader. The groups represented in the new movement include demobilized soldiers of the paratroops, armored corps and other military units, students, intellectuals and academicians.
Among the stated aims of the movement is the infusion of new blood into the national leadership and electoral reform. Bin-Noon, though a naval officer, holds the rank of reserves general in Israel’s defense forces. He is one of the few holders of the nation’s highest decoration–Hero of Israel–which he won for his action during Israel’s war for independence in 1948.
While Katzir seeks someone of sufficient stature to form a new government, the present government is expected to remain in office as a care-taker regime. The status quo will continue for the time being, sources here said today. Israel will continue to pursue a disengagement accord with Syria through the offices of U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. Moshe Dayan is expected to remain on as Defense Minister in the care-taker Cabinet and will continue the contacts with Kissinger on disengagement which he began in Washington last month.
Foreign Minister Abba Eban said today that the fate of Syrian Jews would be at the top of the agenda in any negotiations with Syria. He said that both he and Dayan had apprised the U.S. of Israel’s insistence that the Syrian Jewish problem be given top priority in any talks.
CRISIS SEEN AS HISTORIC IRONY
Mrs. Meir’s resignation and the storm in the Labor Party and the Alignment over the Agranat Committee report were regarded by many as historic ironies. The Premier had indicated prior to the general election last Dec. that she did not want to run again for public office and again sought to resign during the stormy period after the election when she was trying to form a coalition government.
Dayan, too, said he did not want to serve in the new Cabinet and came into it on March 6 only after proddings by Alignment leaders and the increased tension along the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line on the Golan Heights. A little more than a month later, on April 2, the Agranat Committee released its report absolving Mrs. Meir and Dayan from responsibility for Israel’s lack of preparedness on the eve of the Yom Kippur War and finding Chief of Staff Gen. David Elazar as mainly responsible for the deficiency. The demand for Dayan’s resignation and for ministerial responsibility led to Mrs. Meir’s decision to resign.
Another irony noted by observers was that in an effort to resolve the question of whether ministerial responsibility must be borne solely by Dayan or by the entire Cabinet, Justice Minister Haim Zadok was asked Tuesday night to draft a legal opinion in this issue. Several hours before Mrs. Meir announced her decision to resign. Zadok presented to the Cabinet a document based on British jurisprudence stating that individual ministerial responsibility exists but that there are no legal provisions to enforce it–meaning that a minister cannot be forced to resign. The legal opinion was prepared by a team of Justice Ministry lawyers headed by Attorney General Meir Shamgar. Zadok stressed that it did not represent his personal view.
For many, Mrs. Meir’s resignation symbolizes the end of the “founders generation.” The feeling also expressed was that the “Old Lady” would have liked to have left the stage of history “more gloriously.” Labor Party leaders are now trying to make every possible effort to prevent the Alignment from dissolving into its constituent elements–Mapai, Achdut Avoda, Mapam and Rafi. It is no secret that some of the Labor Party leaders are afraid of a possible development which will bring Likud into alignment with Rafi. It is felt, therefore, that Labor leaders will make every effort to find a candidate for the post of Prime Minister that will be acceptable to all the Alignment elements.
Meanwhile, there was widespread conviction that there is now no way to avoid new elections. However, elections would not be held until Katzir gives a mandate to a political leader and that leader is unable to form a new government. Once a mandate is given, the person receiving it has 21 days to form a new government and may ask the President for an additional 21 days. If a government is still not formed by then the President can select another leader for the mandate. If this person, too, falls, the President must inform the Knesset Speaker about the failures, and the Knesset then chooses a date for elections.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.