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Why Begin's political problems echo beyond Israel

Prime Minister Begin's domestic political plight resounds beyond Israel for at elast two reasons: the steps that he might take on a larger stage to stay in office and the different steps the opposition intends to take if he is brought down.

renewed attention was drawn to such matters this week when Mr. BEgin's Likud coalition government came the closest to defeat so far in the latest of many confidence votes by the Knesset (Parliament). Its three-vote margin of victory came at about the same time as a newspaper poll indicating that the labor Party would receive 58 parliamentary seats and the Likud coalition only 22 if national elections were held now.

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Israel's galloping inflation and other economic woes appeared to be the main impetus behind the call for a confidence vote and the narrowness of the Begin government's win. Among those casting votes of no confidence was Mr. Begin's former defense minister, Moshe Dayan, who warned that failure to improve the economy would threaten israel's position in the international political arena.

What concerns some observers is that Mr. Begin might plunge into some bold political or even military action to overwhelm economic criticism and rally Israeli support around his government. There are signs that one possibility might be annexation of occupied Syrian territory on the Golan Heights. Another might be a move into southern Lebanon pinning down more land and water for Israel.

In either case an international outcry might be expected, ironically serving to patriotically draw together even those Israelis who would not favor such expansionist moves, moves so inimical to Mideast peace. These could only be deplored by outside friends of Israel, who see its long-term secrurity requiring a just settlement with the Palestinians and other ARabs without further expansionism -- and certainly without the shooting of Palestinian student demonstrators as in the recent West Bank episode which the US State Department spoke out against.

Mr. Begin could stay in power, at least until the scheduled end of his government's term next November, without reckless initiatives across the borders. Various elements within the coalition have an incentive to keep voting for him in the Knesset to preserve political advantages that would disappear along with him.

But present predictions are for Labor's return to leadership when elections come. Which brings us back to its intentions of importance to the outside world. These seem to include an effort to reach a Palestinian settlement by using the "Jordan option," turning the West Bank and Gaza over to neighboring Jordan under arrangements to ensure Israel's security.

For all such reasons, the present boiling of Israel's domestic political pot over the fire of inflation has implications to be watched with inerest from near and far.

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