Knesset confirms Shamir as new Israeli prime minister
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir took over as prime minister of Israel Monday from ailing Premier Menachem Begin in the midst of an economic crisis that would have brought down many parliamentary governments.Skip to next paragraph
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Prior to a confidence motion in which Mr. Shamir got 60 votes out of the 120 -seat Knesset (parliament), opposition leader Shimon Peres challenged Shamir. ''You should have . . . asked for new elections,'' he said.
But the weakness and divisions of the opposition Labor Party (which mustered 53 votes against Shamir), coupled with the desire of small government coalition partners to remain in office, leave uncertain the question of whether the government will serve out the remaining 19 months of its term or, as many observers believe likely, call a new ballot some time in 1984.
The Israeli stock exchange remained closed in a government effort to stem heavy selling of bank shares prompted by expectations of a sharp currency devaluation. Sales of foreign currency were suspended Monday morning. Shamir warned the Knesset that Israel was living beyond its means and indicated economic austerity measures and further devaluation of the shekel would be among his first concerns in office. On Monday, the shekel was devalued by 5.5 percent.
Prime Minister Shamir, a small, bushy-browed, less flamboyant man than Mr. Begin, will also inherit the problem of Israeli involvement in Lebanon and the issue of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Shamir is a man whose views parallel or are even more hawkish than his predecessor's. In presenting his government to the Knesset, Shamir said that Israel would leave Lebanon ''when security conditions [for northern Israel] are assured'' and Syrian troops leave Lebanon.
A staunch advocate of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, and of Israeli retention of these areas, he told the Knesset ''this sacred work [ settlements] must not stop. It is the heart of our existence and life.''
The opposition Labor Party has charged that the government could save substantial sums by cutting back on settlements. But Shamir - who indicated figures for government investment in settlements were exaggerated - made it clear that cost would not be a factor in continuing settlements.
The economic crisis he will immediately confront will sorely try Shamir. He is more cautious and less forceful than Begin, but he will be called on to persuade almost exactly the same Cabinet to adopt measures that the fading ex-premier was unable to ramrod through.
Israeli inflation is running at 130 percent, one of the three highest national rates in the world. Politically motivated policies have encouraged massive consumer spending and a mushrooming trade deficit. The government only recently pushed through a package of major budget cuts designed to ease Israel's economic woes. But these were frozen following Begin's bombshell resignation announcement on Aug. 28. And small coalition parties have already bargained for rollbacks in areas affecting their constituencies as the price of their joining Shamir's government.