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Navon Drops out of Race for Leadership of the Labor Party

Yitzhak Navon has decided not to run for the leadership of the Labor Party. The former President announced his decision at a press conference here Friday morning, having previously informed party chairman Shimon Peres.

As a result, Peres will be unchallenged as Labor’s candiate for Premier in the July 23 elections. Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, Peres’s perennial rival, will also not be challenging Peres for leadership. He confirmed this Friday afternoon by saying that Peres would be reelected unnanimously to the leadership.

Navon’s announcement came after two days of intense speculation in the party and the public, and after intense pressures and counter-pressures on the former President. Navon acknowledged frankly that his wide personal popularity might have been an asset had he been the party’s candidate. He said he had been under pressure to make a bid for leadership ever since stepping down after a five-year term.

“In my heart I believed I must do it,” he said. And he would indeed have done so– had the party been prepared to unite behind his candidacy.

Returning home from abroad last month before the Knesset voted to hold early elections, Navon said he found “an atmoshere of conciliation” in Labor and a desire by both Peres and Rabin to avoid a leadership contest at this time.

TUSSLE FOR LEADERSHIP IN LIKUD

In the Likud, meanwhile, a leadership tussle has become a certainty following Ariel Sharon’s formal announcement Friday that he would run in the Herut Central Committee against Premier Yitzhak Shamir. Sharon said he sought “the best possible team to lead Likud.”

Still unknown, though, are Deputy Premier David Levy’s intentions. Some observers felt Levy’s chances in Herut would have been strengthened had Navon run for Labor. On the other hand, there is a theory among some pundits that Levy will seek his party’s mandate now on the grounds that he, with his broad based popularity, would stand a better chance against the lackluster Peres than would Shamir.

NAVON CONFRONTED WITH DIFFICULT DECISION

Navon said he had been confronted with the difficult decision, therefore, of whether to accept this situation or force the issue nevertheless — and after much thought and consideration he decided not to make a fight of it.

Navon made it clear that Peres had not been prepared to step down willingly, and would have fought had he (Navon) challenged him. The former President said he warmly thanked all those who had urged him to make a bid for the leadership, and he now urged them to work all-out for a Labor victory in the elections. He said he himself would work diligently in the campaign, would run for the Kneset, but would not want “the number three slot (after Peres and Rabin) or any other slot.” Peres is reported to have offered Navon the number three slot on the Labor list, with a future Cabinet post of Deputy Premier and in charge of domestic policy. But Navon’s supporters in the party were miffed and felt that he should at least have been offered the post of Foreign Minister. Peres is reported to have insisted that this post is reserved for Abba Eban who has been loyal to Peres throughout the years of conflict with Rabin.

Some observers detected a tinge of bitterness in Navon’s refusal to accept “any numerical slot,” as he put it. But Peres himself avoided any reference to this tone in Navon’s remarks. In his reaction, Peres said he “warmly admired” Navon’s decision not to force a contest, and he asserted that Navon would have a key role both before and after the elections.

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