JERUSALEM (Feb. 24)
Opposition factions seized upon the paper-thin 41-vote margin by which Premier Yitzhak Rabin defeated Defense Minister Shimon Peres for the Labor Party nomination last night as a sign that Labor is hopelessly divided and will enter the May 17 elections in a weakened condition. Most Laborites, on the other hand, insisted that the party now stands united behind Rabin and will receive a new mandate from the electorate at the polls. Rabin received 1445 votes and Peres got 1404 votes. (See related analysis P. 1.)
But some Peres supporters took a dim view of the future. Former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said. "I am sorry about the outcome but I am sorrier about the effect this decision will have on the outcome of the general elections." Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, a strong Peres supporter, said that "Rabin won because a desire for change was interpreted as a dismissal."
Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi who also favored Peres, observed that the latter is still the second strongest man in the party. Tourism Minister Moshe Kol of the Independent Liberal Party said last night’s results "indicate the democratic contest in the Labor Party which must now face the difficult problems that the country faces."
But Likud leader Menachem Beigin declared that "Mr. Rabin did not gain the real confidence of his party." Likud campaign chairman Ezer Weizman indicated that Rabin will be Likud’s prime target in the election race. "The Labor Party has elected a candidate for the Premiership who reflects its own image: colorless and without imagination," Weizman said.
PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM
Former Interior Minister Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party said that Rabin’s narrow margin indicated a difficult period for the Labor Party. He expressed doubt that the party can unite around Rabin. Prof. Yigal Yadin, leader of the new Democratic Movement for Change, said Rabin’s precarious victory "reflects a deep crisis within the Labor Party that will show up on election day."
But Naftali Feder, political secretary of Mapam, expressed satisfaction with the outcome which, he said, makes it possible to preserve the Labor Alignment. "I believe Rabin will lead the Alignment to victory in the elections and he will form the next Cabinet." Feder said.
A spokesman for Gen. Ariel Sharon’s new Shlomzion movement said the Labor convention "proved to the people in Israel that this is the same party, the same alignment which continues the same policies, the same system and the same incompetence." A spokesman for the leftist Moked faction said "Rabin’s election was preferable to Peres, but the narrow margin means that Rabin and (Foreign Minister Yigal) Allon will continue to make policy according to Rafi (Peres’ faction) concepts which does the work for Likud."
FEAR OF REPRISAL AGAINST PERES
Meanwhile, there is a feeling of uneasiness among some Peres supporters that they may face reprisals for having challenged the incumbent Premier. Rabin said at a press conference after his victory that he intended to include Peres in his next Cabinet with an "important" portfolio. But he refused to commit himself as to which portfolio will be entrusted to Peres. The Defense Ministry which he now heads is one of the senior Cabinet posts and there are few others of equal rank that he could fill.
The group that supported Peres said it would not disband. "We have to meet, discuss and decide on ways and means so that we are not hurt for supporting Peres. We have to make sure that no one is hurt for supporting Peres," a spokesman for the group said.
The convention has two more sessions scheduled. The election of a new Central Committee is expected to last well into the night. It will be followed by a debate on political issues prior to adopting the party’s election platform. The plank proposed by Mapam expressing readiness for territorial concessions in all sectors in exchange for peace is expected to be approved. This plank was apparently Mapam’s price for remaining in the Labor Alignment. It was paid because Mapam’s defection could have seriously weakened Labor on election day.