The Shamir-peres Debate: No New Ground Broken; Each Side Claims Victory in the Confrontation

Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres held the definitive debate of the election campaign on television last night. Likud and Labor each conducted installation telephone polls immediately after the pre-taped confrontation was broadcast and each party, predictably. claimed that its man had emerged the winner by an overwhelming majority. The consensus of experts was that honors were about even and that no new ground was broken by either of the candidates.

Shamir and Peres replied to the same four questions, put to them by veteran journalist Dan Pattir, dealing with social problems, foreign policy, the economy and security. Afterwards each had three minutes to sum up his political credo and convince the electorate to vote for his party on July 23.

Peres, representing the opposition, went on the attack, and Shamir, the incumbent, defended the Likud record. On social issues, Peres claimed the gap between haves and have-nots has widened under Likud rule, agriculture failed, industrial production fell and slum renewal was halted because the budget ran out with the work only half done.

Shamir insisted that the Likud regime made great strikes toward narrowing the social gap and eliminating the barriers between the “first and second Israel meaning the old-timers and newcomers, and that it had instilled a sense of dignity.

VIEWS ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS

With respect to foreign affairs, Shamir maintained that the seven years of Likud rule has seen unprecedented cooperation between Israel and the United States and improved relations with Europe, despite Likud’s oft stated position that it would not trade territory for peace.

Shamir said his government has many times invited Jordan to negotiate in the Camp David framework. He said it would try to improve relations with Egypt and maintained that there were no problems with respect to Lebanon that cannot be dealt with.

Peres declared, “What you promise for the future could have been done in the past.” He accused Likud of spoiling the chances for peace with Egypt and Lebanon. He said the government did invite King Hussein of Jordan to negotiate while telling him at the same time, there was nothing to negotiate over.

ISSUE OF INFLATION

Peres blamed Likud for runaway inflation. “You have been Premier for nine months. In those months inflation has gone from 200 percent a year to 400 percent. In any other democratic country, the Prime Minister would have resigned,” he said.

Shamir replied that the government has made a tremendous investment in the industrial infrastructure and social amenities and ensured employment. He blamed inflation on “local and external developments.”

Responding to Peres’ criticism of the government’s heavy investment in settlements on the West Bank, Shamir said halting settlements or withdrawing the Israel Defense Force from Lebanon would not reduce inflation.

SECURITY ISSUE EXAMINED

With respect to security, Shamir said the IDF would be withdrawn from Lebanon only when conditions guaranteed the security of Israel’s northern borders. He implied that Israel was counting on the South Lebanon Army (SLA) to take over security eventually, “but we cannot set timetables for withdrawl,” he said.

Peres claimed the government lost its chance for peace with Lebanon when, in June 1982, it pushed beyond the 40-kilometer line that was its officially stated objective. He reiterated that a Labor-led government would pull the IDF out of Lebanon “within a short time,” observing “It is our duty not only to give our youth call-up notices but also the hope for peace.”

Shamir maintained that Israel’s security on its eastern front depended on mass settlement of the West Bank and a strong IDF. Peres reminded him that it was under a Labor regime that Jordan was pushed out of the West Bank. He vowed that no single Arab soldier would ever be allowed to return to the territory, even if part of it was returned to Jordanian jurisdiction in a peace arrangement.

Summing up, Peres said a Labor government would seek to unite the country to rebuild the economy and seek peace from a position of military strength. Shamir promised that a renewed mandate for Likud would see another “million Jews” settle in the country. He too promised to unite the country and correct its economic weaknesses.

Shamir concluded with an offer to establish a national unity government after the elections, an offer he has made on many previous occasions eliciting neither negative nor positive responses from the Labor camp. Peres rejected Shamir’s offer as “election propaganda.”

POST-DEBATE POLL

The consensus today was that Peres appeared somewhat more at ease during the debate, gesticulating freely and turning frequently to the Premier, addressing him as “Mr. Shamir.” Shamir, for his part, stared straight into the camera, never glanced at Peres and gave the impression of an earnest, if somewhat stolid campaigner.

Likud’s post-debate poll declared Shamir the winner by a 54-28 percent margin among 415 respondents. Labor’s poll, among 534 respondents, had Peres winning the debate by a 70-30 percent margin and Peres preferred over Shamir by 62-38 percent to be the next Prime Minister.

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