JERUSALEM (Mar. 21)
Likud and the Labor Alignment face the prospect of internal leadership struggles as both major parties prepared today for early elections which political pundits consider to be inevitable.
The Knesset will begin debate tomorrow on an early elections bill introduced by Labor and supported by several Likud Liberals and by the Tami party which announced that it would introduce an early elections bill of its own.
The combination of opposition and coalition forces are sufficient, according to most observers, to pass a bill to dissolve the Knesset and set a date for elections.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir, who tried desperately to avoid an early trip to the polls, appeared resigned today that he will have to face the voters at least a year before Likud’s mandate expires in November, 1985. But he would like to postpone the elections as long as possible to give his government a chance to deal effectively with the economy and the volatile situation in Lebanon.
Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres feels his chances of unseating Likud are best if the election campaign is short and free from the internal rancor that has split Labor during its years in opposition. Accordingly, he is seeking to deflect the challenge posed to his leadership by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin. Labor activists believe this can be accomplished by summoning former President Yitzhak Navon to take a major role in the upcoming campaign.
The idea is that a Peres-Rabin-Navon troika, can lead Labor to victory, Navon being immensely popular with the public. Since he is Sephardic, he is expected to appeal to many of the Sephardic voters who supported Likud in the 1977 and 1981 elections.
Furthermore, as a close personal friend of Peres, Navon is not expected to contest Peres’ leadership of the Labor Party. As for Rabin, Labor strategists are confident that if the Alignment, together with Tami, succeed in forcing an early summer election date, he will abandon his rivalry with Peres, at least for the time being, so as not to be depicted as a “spoiler” during what would be a brief but bitter election campaign against Likud.
Navon, who is presently in the United States, told the newspaper Yediot Achronot in a telephone interview yesterday that he has not yet received a call from Labor to return home. He said, however, that he would welcome a decision for early elections. According to Davar, Navon will be called home as soon as the Knesset adopts an early elections bill.
Tami leader Aharon Abu-Hatzeira, whose surprise announcement Monday in favor of early elections touched off the race, is trying to persuade Shamir to agree to a May or June date. At a meeting with the Premier last night, he reportedly argued that the sooner the elections, the less chance of a leadership fight within Likud.
SHAMIR MAY BE CHALLENGED BY LEVY
Shamir maybe challenged again by Deputy Premier David Levy, as he was last September after Premier Menachem Begin resigned. At that time the Herut Central Committee favored Shamir by a 60-40 percent margin. Relations between the two men have been strained ever since.
While Levy may have gained strength in the interim, most observers believe he could not seriously threaten Shamir unless he is joined by former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. But a Levy-Sharon team is considered remote.
Sharon, presently a Minister-Without-Portfolio, has made no secret of his ambition to become Prime Minister. But even if he makes a leadership bid on his own, he is not viewed as a serious challenge to Shamir.
WEIZMAN TO LEAD NEW CENTRIST PARTY
Meanwhile, a new-old face entered the picture last night when former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman announced that he would head a new centrist party in the next elections. Weizman, who resigned from Likud over policy differences with Begin after the 1981 elections, accompanied his announcement with a barrage of criticism against the Likudled government.
He accused it of failure to seize the opportunities presented by the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt to broaden the peace process. He linked this with Israel’s economic morass, contending that proper exploitation of the peace would have given Israel vital regional markets for its exports. At present the economy is burdened by a $1 billion foreign trade gap.
Weizman referred to a “team” working with him to form a new party but did not divulge their names. Some observers believe they include Gen. Mordechai Hod, a former Air Force commander; Dan Tolkowsky, also a former Air Force chief and now a banker; industrialist Avraham Shavit; and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the coordinator of West Bank activities.
Weizman himself has been involved in shipping, automobile importing and automobile rental since his retirement. His new party, if it materializes, is expected to have a strong business orientation.
ANNOUNCEMENT GREETED WITH DERISION
But Weizman’s announcement was greeted with derision from both the left and right. His criticism of the war in Lebanon prompted Labor Pary dove Yossi Sarid to ask, “Where was he for the past two years?”
Yitzhak Berman, a Likud Liberal who resigned from the government over the Lebanon war and may establish an opposition party of his own, called Weizman an “opportunist.” “Ezer kept his mouth shut, kept his options open, and sat waiting for a call from Begin or Shamir to rejoin the government,” he charged.
Political observers predict that any new centrist party would make a poor showing in the next elections. They recalled the attempt by Yigael Yadin, the world famous archaeologist, whose Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) won 15 Knesset seats in the 1977 elections, only to fall apart and disappear by the time the next elections were held in 1981.
Likud politicians, while disowning Weizman, would welcome a new party under his leadership on the supposition that whatever votes it drew would be at the expense of Labor. But Laborites who supported the DMC seven years ago–contributing to Begin’s landslide victory over Labor that year — are believed to be disillusioned with any attempt to form a new centrist party.