Behind the Headlines Israeli Parties Are Trying to Get Their Acts Together for May 17

Israel’s political factions have been concentrating on internal matters during the past few days. Their aim is to project at least the appearance of party unity and to develop coherent positions on major domestic and foreign policy issues that will give the voters a choice when they go to the polls May 17.

The big problem for the Labor Party is to assure peace between the supporters of Premier Yitzhak Rabin and those who backed his challenger, Defense Minister Shimon Peres, at the convention last week. The Independent Liberal Party, which opened its convention yesterday, faces the problem of survival as a party. Likud is trying to soften its hardline image, but not to a degree that would alienate its hawkish constituency. Prof. Yigal Yadin’s new Democratic Movement for Change (DESH), which some political pundits believe will give Labor its most serious opposition on election day, has defined the terms under which it would join a coalition government with either Labor or Likud.

The dramatic focus is on Labor, the biggest party, which heads the care-taker government. Its convention chose to retain Rabin as leader, but only by the barest of margins. It went on to adopt a controversial platform plank by an equally slim margin, emphasizing that on the issues of leadership and foreign policy the Labor Party is split down the middle.

It has, in fact, coalesced from three factions–Mapai, Rafi and Achdut Haavoda–into two: the Rabin camp and the Peres camp. The fact that the incumbent Rabin could muster only a 41-vote margin (out of some 2800 ballots cast) to edge out Peres was symptomatic of a dangerous cleavage that could come apart before election day.

PERES GROUP MAKING DEMANDS

Rabin and his followers are doing their utmost to avoid a split and the Peres backers are taking full advantage of their strong position. When the convention reconvened Thursday after its climactic vote Wednesday night, the Peres camp demanded equal representation with the Rabin faction on all party bodies, on the Knesset list, in the next Cabinet and in such Labor-dominated institutions as the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut Executive and the various local workers’ councils. They are also insisting that Uzi Baram, the vigorous secretary of the party’s Jerusalem branch, be made Secretary General of the party when incumbent Meir Zarmi’s term ends.

The Peres people won their first victory Thursday night when the party’s nominating committee convened to elect one-third of the delegates to the new Central Committee which consists of 816 members compared to 601 on the old committee. The other two-thirds are elected by the various district branches. But the Peres group was given 50 percent of the delegates appointed by the nominating committee, which put them on an equal basis with the Rabin group. They appeared to be satisfied.

Nonetheless, Peres warned on Friday that he would protect his supporters from possible reprisals for having backed him against Rabin. He implied that he would refuse to stand for the Knesset on the Labor list or participate in the next government unless Knesset seats were assured for representatives of the younger generation and women and unless Cabinet portfolios were offered to his most prominent supporters. Gad Yaacobi, Abba Eban and Yitzhak Navon.

Some Peres supporters also demanded that Rabin retain Peres as Defense Minister in the next government and award him the additional post of Deputy Premier, now held by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon. These demands were advanced again today by Peres supporters in a meeting between them and Rabin supporters. The atmosphere at today’s meeting was described as constructive and Zarmi undertook the task of presenting the two party leaders with specific representation in party and government bodies.

The almost 50-50 split over the party platform plank stating Israel’s readiness for territorial concessions in “all sectors” has alienated former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Dayan, who led the opposition to the plank, said after its adoption that he could not campaign for Labor under these circumstances.

NUANCES OF PLATFORM CHANGES

Meanwhile, Rabin hopes to include the ILP in the next coalition government. He and President Ephraim Katzir attended the ILP convention opening yesterday. Rabin expressed appreciation for the ILP’s cooperation in the past and said he looked forward to a continued relationship in the future. Party secretary Itzhak Barkai conceded, however, that the ILP was going through a period of crisis. But he claimed it was now united and strong.

Likud, reportedly, is re-writing its election platform to eliminate such blunt statements as “Palestine will not be divided anymore.” It is also adding a plank that states that a Likud-led government would go to Geneva and support all efforts to prevent a new war and direct negotiations for peace treaties without pre-conditions and without outside interference.

The platform reiterates Likud’s position that the Judaea-Samaria regions remain permanently under Israel’s sovereignty. But political observers detect a certain softening of language which they say indicates a slight concession by the militant Herut faction to the more moderate Liberals.

The Democratic Movement for Change was thrown into an uproar by a Washington Post story claiming that Yadin had said he would prefer to join a coalition with Labor. A spokesman for the movement said the report was erroneous. He said the DESH was prepared to join either Labor or Likud on three conditions.

These were a pledge for election reforms; an undertaking to establish government ministries to deal with existing problems instead of creating portfolios to pay off party obligations; and top priority for measures to close Israel’s social gap.

Meanwhile, a prominent Soviet Jewish emigre, former Maj. Grisha Feigin of the Red Army, announced that he would stand for the Knesset on the Labor Party list. Feigin claimed to have the support of at least 50,000 Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. It was also reported that Tzofia Goren, wife of Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, may seek a Knesset seat on the National Religious Party list as a representative of religious women.

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