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World: Israel: An Heir for Golda Meir

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TOWARD the end of last month, the leaders of Israel’s governing Labor Party met four or five times in Tel Aviv to discuss the problems that would confront the country during the 1970s. The last of the meetings was a secret caucus at the home of Tel Aviv’s mayor, Yehoshua Rabinowitz. Three faces were missing. Premier Golda Meir had purposely absented herself. Pinhas Sapir, Israel’s Finance Minister and the party’s powerful kingmaker, was traveling on government business. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had not been invited. The consensus of the meeting, after lengthy discussion, was that Sapir the kingmaker should himself become king when Golda Meir’s term as Premier ends in 1973—or when and if Mrs. Meir, now 72, decides on earlier retirement. ∙

Born in Poland in 1909, Sapir emigrated to Palestine in 1929. Trained as a banker, he gradually turned to politics. During the 1948 war for independence, Sapir went abroad to raise the funds to buy the guns. Thereafter he served as the moneyman for both the government and the party, building up a strong political machine in the process. Two years ago, when the late Premier Levi Eshkol first fell ill and the Labor Party secretariat met to discuss a successor, Sapir designated Golda Meir. Three months later, when Eshkol died, the choice became fact.

Sapir is a tough, gruff politician. But on Israel’s burning question—relations with the Arabs—he is a dove. He favors giving back back most of the territories captured in 1967 in return for a firm peace settlement, and he has steadfastly opposed the idea of integrating the economies of these territories with Israel’s. On this he long differed with Dayan, who took a hawkish view. Lately, however, Dayan has been promoting a dovish plan for disengagement at the Suez Canal. In so doing, he has irritated other Cabinet members, who feel that he wants to give away too much for too little. Dayan has had no qualms about being an irritant or proposing radical ideas; as the fighting hero of Israel’s 1956 war and the Defense Minister who engineered its swift 1967 victory, he is an immensely popular public figure.

Dayan’s ultimate sin, however, is that he has increasingly irritated Golda Meir. She dislikes his hawk-dove vacillation. She frets at the time consumed in Cabinet sessions discussing Dayan. Disagreements between the two have become a clash of personalities. When Dayan began a lengthy explanation of his Suez disengagement plan to the Cabinet recently, Mrs. Meir acidly interrupted to ask whether an old woman who knew nothing about defense could insert a question. Dayan fell silent.

From time to time recently, Mrs. Meir has let intimates know that she would like to have the succession problem settled. Following her wishes—as they usually do—leaders of the party, including Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Deputy Premier Yigal Alton, Minister Without Portfolio Israel Galili, Party Secretary-General Arie Eliav and about ten city bosses, finally met at Mayor Rabinowitz’s home to settle the question. The only other real contender besides Dayan and Sapir that the group had to consider was Allon, but within party circles he does not have Sapir’s clout. When Golda Meir received the news that the decision had gone to Sapir, she was described as gratified.

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