Israel: Cabinet of Hawks

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It took Premier Golda Meir an entire month of bargaining to put together a Cabinet after last October's elections, in which her Labor party failed to win an absolute majority. But the time was obviously well spent. Last week she introduced to the Knesset (Parliament) the largest Cabinet in Israeli history. A coalition of five parties representing nearly 90% of the electorate, Golda's Cabinet was so large, in fact, that smaller chairs had to be used to accommodate the 24 ministers at the government table in the parliamentary chamber.

Reflecting the current mood in Israel, the new Cabinet was also the most militant in a decade. In a speech to the Knesset, Mrs. Meir reiterated her objections against Big Four peace plans ("There is no point in playing with formula and compromise suggestions"), endorsed the building of more Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and stressed that her government would settle for nothing less than a genuine peace accord in which the Arabs would accept Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state.

Famous Name. Under the circumstances, the influence of Israel's leading moderates has declined. Abba Eban, who has advocated trading captured areas for a peace settlement, retained the Foreign Ministry, but he is losing the important information division, which is being set up as a separate ministry. Golda, annoyed by Eban's overly optimistic assessments of Israeli-U.S. relations, was reported to have told intimates that she did not really want "that man" in her Cabinet. Pinhas Sapir, who has spoken out against permanent settlement in the occupied areas, will soon lose the important post of Labor party secretary, but as Finance Minister will have the thankless task of struggling with Israel's growing economic crisis.

By contrast, the hawks are on the rise. Moshe Dayan remains Defense Minister, and his wing of the Labor party has been strengthened by inclusion in the Cabinet of Technocrat Shimon Peres, who once served as David Ben-Gurion's Deputy Defense Minister.

By far the most outspoken hawk of all is a flamboyant newcomer to Israeli politics who bears one of the most celebrated names in Israeli history. He is Major General Ezer Weizman, 45, the former commander of the Israeli air force and the nephew of the late Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President (Ezer dropped the second "n" as a gesture of independence). A member of the irredentist Gahal party, whose representation in the Cabinet increased from two to six, Weizman shed his uniform only last week to become Transportation Minister.

Weizman believes in sharp reprisals against the Arab terrorists. "If you don't keep giving the Arabs a bloody nose from time to time, the Arab balloon will blow up. We are going to live like this, hacking at each other, for some time to come." A fervent Zionist, Weizman has no patience with Israelis who would turn back occupied territories to the Arabs. "Do I have to preach to my children that I have the right to the land of Israel only where there are no Arabs?" he asks. "Or do I preach to my children that I have a right to this land because it is mine of right?"

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