The centrist Democratic Movement for Change voted overwhelmingly tonight against joining the right-wing Likud Party in a coalition government.
The decision left Likud leader Menachem Begin with little choice but to form a narrowly based conservative government that will depend heavily on religious parties from the far right and that, in the view of many observers, will be shortlived.
Likud's failure to form a broadbased government and the possibility that new parliamentary elections may have to be held are also considered likely to delay any meaningful peace efforts in the Middle East.
Leaders of the Democratic Movement indicated after their meeting tonight that there is a possibility that coalition talks would be resumed but they made it clear that major concessions would have to be made first by Begin's party.
The movement's 135-member council voted, with only a handful of dissenters, to break off the coalition talks after Yigael Yadin, the movement's founder, and other leaders reported that the right-wing party had made no effort to reach an accommodation on major issues such as foreign affairs and defense. The Democratic Movement's positions in these areas have been relatively dovish, in contrast to the hawkish positions of Likud and its partners in the religious parties.
The Democratic Movement's negotiating body was empowered to resume the talks if it is convinced that circumstances have changed substantively. Most observers agree, however, that this is not likely to happen, since Likud has indicated in the past few days that it is willing to attempt to govern without the Centrist Party as an ally.
Begin is scheduled to present a new Cabinet to Parliment no later than next Monday and it apparently will have to content itself with the narrowest possible parliamentary base.
As it stands now, only 63 of the 120 members of Parliament are expected to support the government, which will be composed of representatives of Begin's Likud party and the two religious parties: the National Religious party and ultra orthodox Agudah.
The government will be opposed by the Labor alignment, the Democratic Movement for Change and a number of minor parties that can muster 57 votes against the government.
During the past three weeks considerable pressure had been exerted on the Democratic Movement's negotiating team, both by the party's rank-and-file and by the public. They urged that Yadin and his colleagues join the Begin government despite the unfavorable circumstances in order to become a moderating influence on the Likud and the religious parties, known for their extremism on political matters.
Yadin and the other negotiators, however, convinced the members of the party's council tonight that Likud had left them with practically no chance to influence policy decisions, especially on vital issues such as territorial concessions in the coming negotiations with Israel's Arab neighbors, the establishment of new settlements in the occupied territories and the imposition of Israeli rule on the occupied territories while people negotiations are in progress.
After tonight's vote, Yadin pledged that he and the other 14 Democratic Movement members of Parliament who began their term of office today would constitute an active opposition and work to bring down the government as soon as possible.
Poltical observers predict that Begin's government may not survive the full four-year term.
It is still too early however to speculate whe it might be brought down and what kind of government could replace it.