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Labor Party United Behind Peres to Head Its List in the Elections

The Labor Party will enter the election campaign united behind Shimon Peres. Its Central Committee unanimously nominated him today to head its list in the July 23 elections and had praise for his two rivals, former Premier Yitzhak Rabin and former President Yitzhak Navon for gracefully bowing out of the race in the interests of party unity.

The Central Committee meeting was described by observers as the “calmest and friendliest” in years. “Steel helmets were not needed this time,” said one participant.

SHARON DETERMINED TO OPPOSE SHAMIR

Likud is also striving for internal unity. Deputy Premier David Levy’s announcement yesterday that he will not contest Premier Yitzhak Shamir for the top spot on the election list eased the situation. But former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated this morning that he was determined to run against Shamir despite appeals from many Herut activists to withdraw from the race.

Sharon’s stand makes a leadership struggle unavoidable when the Herut Central Committee meets on April 12 to decide who will head the party. Herut is the largest component of the Likud alignment.

LABOR SEES TOUGH FIGHT TO OUST LIKUD

Labor announced that the defeat of Likud is its top priority. Peres warned the Central Committee that “victory is not guaranteed. We should not sit back satisfied. But victory is not impossible. Our main task is to replace the Likud regime, for the good of the people, the country and the Labor Party.”

Navon, in his first political speech since ending his five year term as President last year, agreed that Labor must present a united front. “We now have before us a tough, serious fight to oust the Likud government, he said.

BEGIN’S ROLE IN LEVY’S DECISION

Many political observers believe that former Premier Menachem Begin was a key factor in Levy’s “last minute”decision not to run against Shamir. Begin, who has been in virtual seclusion since he resigned last summer, invited Shamir to his home this week for their first face-to-face meeting in months. They reportedly discussed the election campaign and other party matters.

On Tuesday, Begin said in a telephone radio interview that this was no time for a leadership contest in Herut. Levy made his announcement on Wednesday shortly after receiving a telephone call from Benyamin Begin, the former Premier’s son. The younger Begin is regarded as a spokesman for his father since the latter’s withdrawal from active politics and is considered by some likely to fill his father’s seat in the next Knesset.

LEVY’S SUPPORT OF SHAMIR IS TEPID

Levy would not confirm that Begin’s call influenced his decision. But political observers suspect that considerable pressure was brought to bear on him. Although Levy has deferred to Shamir, his support for the Premier may be tepid.

In a radio interview after he announced his withdrawal from the race last night, he evaded a direct reply when asked if he thought Shamir was “Likud’s best candidate.” He would say only that he was “better than Peres.” Levy also made a point of nothing his reservations over some key elements of government economic and social policy under Shamir and its policy in Lebanon. Some pundits believe that if Shamir loses the elections, Levy will demand the position of opposition leader.

Meanwhile, MK David Magen, a leading Sharon supporter, told reporters today that if Sharon wins 30 percent of the vote in the Herut Central Committee next week, he would consider it a substantial success that would significantly strengthen his standing in the party.

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