Should Israel vote in April or July? Begin and opposition can't agree

A parliamentary battle looms here this week over the date Israel's voters will go the polls to elect a new national leadership -- on July 7 as proposed by the incumbent Likud coalition government or in April as preferred by the opposition Labor Party.

Experienced political analysts speculated about a compromise that might have the balloting take place no later than June, thereby preventing a conflict with Israeli's summertime exodus abroad, but realistic Laborites doubted that this kind of deal would be made.

"The coalition can scrape up enough Knesset support to put over its July 7 date," said Labor spokesman Gideon Levy, listing the splinter parties likely to line up with the Likud Party this time. "Anyway, the minor parties in the outgoing government want to hang on as long as possible."

But there is more to the advancement of the election than the difference between April and July. It promises to change Israel's political complexion beyond recognition: Labor is tipped to win a landslide victory and Prime Minister Menachem Begin is expected to lose not only his national preeminence but also his command of the country's right- wing forces, so painstakingly blended by him in the seven- year old Likud link with the National Liberal Bloc.

If the current projectin of Israeli voting patterns, as developed by the reliable Public Opinion Research Institute in Tel Aviv is correct, Labor stands to win between 48 and 50 percent of the votes, to the Likud's 17 percent. Translated into Knesset arithmetic, this would give Labor a maximum of 60 of parliament's 120 seats and Likud only 21.

Prime Minister Begin had hoped to serve until this coming November, which is the appointed month for general elections.(The 1977 election was advanced due to the resignation of Labor's ex-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.) But a series of defections from his coalition's ranks and the steady increase of the rate of inflation made this impossible.

Still, Mr. Begin will have kept his governing coalition together longer than any of his predecessors, managing to survive for more than four years in office despite the consecutive resignations of his original ministers for foreign affairs, defense, justice, finance and tourism, commerce and industry, as well as the Knesset's cancellation of the parliamentary immunity of the minister for religious affairs.

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