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Peres Formally Announces Challenge to Rabin; Eban Welcomes Move As ‘good’

Defense Minister Shimon Peres formally announced last night that he would challenge Premier Yitzhak Rabin for leadership of the Labor Party and the office of Prime Minister. Peres, who made his long expected announcement in the course of a television interview, received an enthusiastic verbal pat-on-the-back from former Foreign Minister Abba Eban who has indicated he too intends to declare his candidacy for the Premiership.

Peres’ announcement was in a low key. He carefully avoided attacking Rabin and while he appeared fully confident that he would win the backing of his party, he seemed to be leaving his options open should Rabin emerge victorious. He said he would agree in principle to serve in another Rabin Cabinet and stressed that the functions of Premier and Defense Minister should remain separated.

Eban praised Peres for conducting himself “on a high cultural level” and rejected claims that an internal fight for leadership would harm the Labor Party. “This is a good race, contrary to parties such as Likud and (Prof. Yigal) Yadin’s list (Democratic Movement for Change), which have already made their choice,” Eban said. He said Peres’ announcement of his plans “only did good to the party.”

Sources close to Rabin dismissed Peres’ announcement as “nothing new” since his intentions have been well known for some time. Peres said in the interview that he had informed Rabin several weeks ago that he would seek the party’s leadership. Asked about Rabin’s reaction, Peres said “It was not an especially dramatic conversation as you might imagine. We converse from time to time, I don’t think he was surprised.”

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