Netanyahu Sure Coalition Will Last

By SARAH HONIG

JERUSALEM (January 5) - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he hopes Foreign Minister David Levy will retract his resignation, but he is confident that the government will survive the crisis, last through 2000, and that early elections would not be held.

He also vowed to have the budget passed by this afternoon.

Speaking at a news conference four hours after Levy's announcement, Netanyahu sought to put on a brave face and a business-as-usual air.

He said he could "hear the gleeful cries from the leftists and see the broad grins on Labor faces. My advice to them is not to be so quick to smile and celebrate. If you are preparing your victory suits, you will have to pack them away. We will not repeat our errors of 1992, when we enabled the leftists to assume power."

Between the lines, however, it was clear that Netanyahu did not expect Levy to return to the government. He said that he would hold onto the Foreign Affairs portfolio for the time being, and would continue the talks on redeployment once the budget is passed.

Just as Levy took care not to attack Netanyahu personally, so Netanyahu picked no quarrel with Levy. "In all, we worked well together," he said. "I tried to phone him but he wouldn't take my calls."

Netanyahu disputed a reporter's assertion that Levy was pushed into resigning. "The opposite is true," he asserted. "We made tireless efforts to keep all the undertakings made to Levy. Some were fulfilled even before the budget debate, like a long school day and a task force to combat unemployment. The attempt to find the funds was really not simple. We did not want to levy new taxes nor breach the budget framework. I was out to make sure the promises were covered - and not merely on paper. We wanted to look out for the weaker segments of society, despite the enormous overdraft we inherited, which put us in a situation of economic distress."

In what sounded like electioneering, Netanyahu spoke of "a new rail link between Tel Aviv and Beersheba, which was decided upon yesterday to provide employment for Negev residents and link the periphery to the center and thus trigger development. We are also diverting funds to development towns and setting up a scholarship fund for university students from development towns."

Netanyahu predicted that his coalition would not disintegrate because its "members do not want to see the Left take over, Israel reduced to the 1967 lines, to the shores of the Kinneret in the North and to the outskirts of Kfar Sava in the center."

This was regarded as a not-so-veiled warning to coalition renegades about the possible consequences of a failure to maintain discipline.

"Our own policy is clear. We will not return to the headlong reckless rush to borders within which we cannot continue to exist, and any move we make will hinge on the other side curbing terrorism. The era in which Israel alone makes concessions is over, and I will tell this to my American interlocutors," Netanyahu declared.

Sources close to Netanyahu believe that the budget will pass this afternoon. Likud whip Meir Shetreet said it would pass with 63 votes.

The assumption is that those in the Likud who oppose the bill, Ze'ev Begin, Dan Meridor, and David Re'em, will not vote with the opposition. It is believed that two of them may either abstain or absent themselves from the vote. The rest of the coalition is expected to toe the budget line.

The sources acknowledged that coalition unruliness could surface in future votes, but they note that a plurality would not be enough to pass a no-confidence motion, which must be approved by an absolute majority of 61. This means that the government could survive at least until Netanyahu picks a time when he might want to call elections.

Netanyahu conferred last night with ministers and then met with coalition faction heads. Today he will speak to the Likud faction in an effort to buoy coalition spirits and urge more cooperation and discipline.

©Jerusalem Post


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