TEL AVIV (May. 18)
The pall of gloom that settled over Labor Party headquarters after the first projection of election returns last night showed a decisive Likud victory never lifted. The party that had headed every Israeli government since the State was founded in 1948 was in disarray, if not total shambles.
For Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who was elected party leader only a month ago and seemed to have the Premiership within his grasp, the defeat was stunning. “I was afraid that we would suffer a setback but I never thought it would reach such dimensions,” Peres told a group of reporters and weary Laborites early this morning. He had just conceded victory to Likud and the party headquarters were almost deserted.
Nevertheless, Peres took the blow well. “it would be useless to try to cover up the facts,” he said. But he hinted that the election results might have been different if he had had more time as its leader to heal Labor’s internal dissension. Peres assumed party leadership only four weeks ago, after Premier Yitzhak Rabin resigned because of the bank account he and his wife kept in Washington in violation of Israel’s currency laws. The unhappy circumstances of Rabin’s departure culminated a series of scandals that rocked Labor in recent months and accelerated defections from its ranks.
Peres, who assumed the functions of Premier when Rabin went on “vacation” after Independence Day, was unable to stem the tide. Only a week before the elections, Labor Party Secretary General Meir Zarmi resigned that post charging that Peres had excluded him from the party’s counsels.
The future of Labor’s uneasy alignment with Mapam was very much in doubt today. Mapam leader Meir Talmi said that whatever the Alignment may decide, Mapam would under no circumstances join in a coalition government headed by Likud.