Italian Senate Approves Craxi Coalition : Prime Minister Eases Stand on Palestinians’ Resorting to Arms

Times Staff Writer

Prime Minister Bettino Craxi’s foundering coalition government righted itself Friday with a full parliamentary vote of confidence after its second near-sinking in three weeks.

Craxi won the endorsement of the Italian Senate to continue governing with the same five-party coalition that all but went under in the wake of the Achille Lauro hijacking last month.

The upper house acted two days after the prime minister almost scuttled the barely refloated coalition when, during a confidence vote in the lower Chamber of Deputies, he defended the Palestine Liberation Organization’s right to “resort to arms.”


Although the lower house voted in favor of Craxi, his unusually provocative defense of the PLO’s use of violence against Israel infuriated some of his coalition partners and aroused fears that the just-patched-together government would split apart.

In his Senate speech Friday, Craxi toned down his remarks, explaining, “I just wanted to say that, in trying times, oppressed people, seeking to obtain independence, . . . driven by both ideal and desperation, sometimes employ methods not very orthodox.”

Fear of Provoking Split

Before Craxi spoke to the senators, leading members of the Christian Democrat and Republican parties had expressed fears that he was deliberately provoking a split in the coalition in order to force a government collapse that would be blamed on them instead of on his Socialist Party.

Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini, a Republican, had earlier resigned from the coalition government to protest Craxi’s release of PLO official Abul Abbas, the alleged mastermind of a PLO operation that led to the Achille Lauro hijacking. The United States had been seeking Abbas’ extradition.

To bring Spadolini and the Republicans back into the government and end the crisis, Craxi had agreed to a written policy statement toughening Italy’s policy toward the PLO, to deny it a role in the Middle East peace process unless it agreed to follow “without reserve the road to peaceful negotiations.”

With the coalition of Socialists, Christian Democrats, Republicans, Liberals and Social Democrats thereby restored, Craxi had only to gain votes of confidence in both houses of Parliament to restore his government to power.


Thus, his defense of the PLO’s “armed struggle” in the lower house Wednesday shocked other coalition partners into demanding that he give an acceptable explanation or, in the words of Spadolini, “take full responsibility” for a renewed government crisis.

Need for ‘Peaceful Solution’

Shortly before Friday’s Senate vote, leaders of the five parties in the upper house adopted a declaration reaffirming their earlier policy statement concerning the PLO and stressing the need for “an overall, just and peaceful solution” to the Middle East problem.

Craxi responded in his speech by promising to “scrupulously” follow the policy statement, which drew vigorous applause from Spadolini and other senators who had earlier expressed skepticism. The resulting vote of confidence was 180 to 102 in favor.

Sen. Francesco D’Onofrio of the Christian Democrats, who had condemned Craxi’s “armed struggle” speech Wednesday, praised his Friday remarks for showing “the kind of leadership we are looking for which takes into consideration different party lines.”

Speaking for the Republicans, deputy party leader Adolfo Battaglia said the ruling coalition now has “greater equilibrium” and a “much clearer-cut foundation.”

“It was music to my ears,” said Alfredo Biondi, the Liberal party leader.

Despite the period of crisis, the Craxi government technically has served without interruption since Aug. 4, 1983. In a week’s time, it will become the longest-lasting Italian government since World War II, surpassing the record of 833 days compiled by the late Aldo Moro’s Christian Democrat government in 1966-68.