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Knesset Election Campaign Begins with Gentlemanly Radio Debate

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The Knesset election campaign began officially over the weekend with a debate between Defense Minister Moshe Arens and former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, broadcast by the Army Radio yesterday.

It was a gentlemanly exchange and, if it indeed sets the tone for future debates between Likud and the Labor Alignment, the 1984 campaign promises to be on a higher plane than that of 1981 which was characterized by fierce polemics and bitter personal attacks.

There seemed, in fact, to be little basic difference in policy between the two parties. Rabin, who is slated to become Defense Minister in the event of a Labor victory, proposed a gradual withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force from south Lebanon which, he believed, could be completed in a matter of months.

Arens, who is likely to retain the defense portfolio if Likud remains in power, suggested that the less talk there was of an IDF withdrawal the easier it would be to reach an understanding with Syria which occupies a much larger area of Lebanon. Rabin also called for reduced government spending on settlements in the West Bank, primarily for economic reasons.

LIKUD PROMISES MORE SETTLEMENTS

Likud promises to increase settlement activity in the occupied territories, eliminate the military and political potential of the Palestine Liberation Organization and improve the peace with Egypt, now at a low ebb. The party also points to the low rate of unemployment and its efforts to narrow the social gap.

The Labor Alignment stands on a platform commitment to resume efforts to solve the Palestinian problem within the framework of negotiations with Jordan but pledges no return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. It would continue to build settlements, but only on the basis of security needs and strategic considerations and not in the densely populated areas of the West Bank. On the sensitive issue of religious hegemony, Labor stands on the premise that all branches of Judaism deserve official recognition — a view fiercely disputed by the Orthodox establishment — and opposes any change in the Law of Return defining “Who is a Jew.”

LABOR LEADS IN POLLS

The latest public opinion polls continue to give Labor a substantial lead over Likud with elections only four weeks away. A poll published today in Yediot Achronot projected 54 Knesset seats for the Labor Alignment to 39 for Likud. The poll was conducted between June 19-21 among 1, 183 persons of voting age. Earlier in the month, Labor led Likud by 52-40

The smaller parties showed no significant changes. About a third of the respondents were undecided, indicating that the situation could change by the time the voters go to the polls on July 23.

The election campaign opened in the midst of widespread labor unrest (See separate story.) Striking employes of the State-owned Broadcast Authority returned to their jobs today under a back-to-work order issued by Education Minister Zevulun Hammer. They had threatened to black-out radio and television electioneering.

The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) has, for the first time, issued a comprehensive voters guide in English for the benefit of new immigrants from North America. It favors no party but explains the electoral system and carries exerpts from the platforms of all parties.

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