Histadrut Vote Strengthens Peres, Enhancing Chance of Labor Government

Labor’s solid showing Monday in the Histadrut election coupled with Likud’s less-than-expected gains have strengthened Vice Premier Shimon Peres and enhanced the prospect of a narrow-based government under his leadership to replace Labor’s troubled coalition with Likud.

Emerging with 55 percent of the vote, Labor consolidating its grip on the giant trade union federation, perhaps the most important institution in Israel after the government.

With almost all the returns in, Likud had won 27 percent of the vote, well short of the one-third it had sought.

The leftist Mapam received 9 percent, and the Citizens Rights Movements and Jewish-Arab list 4 percent each.

Those parties are likely candidates for a coalition with Labor in Histadrut and possibly in a new government.

But political observers consider most important the deals Yisrael Kessar, Histadrut’s Laborite secretary-general, struck with the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Degel Hatorah parties to gain their members’ votes.

Kessar had himself photographed in advance of the elections with Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, who is Shas’s spiritual mentor.

It was considered a shrewd move. On the one hand, it weakened elements in Labor that have always been wary of alliances with the fickle religious parties.

At the same time, it strengthened prospects for a Labor-Orthodox partnership on the national level.

The success of such an alliance would depend on developments in the diplomatic arena, such as the proposed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and the Israeli election plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip breaking down over objections from Likud.

TALKS IN WASHINGTON

That aspect of the complex Israeli political situation will become clearer this week, after Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s diplomatic talks in Washington, including a meeting with President George Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

Israeli political observers unanimously agree that it is now impossible for Shamir to use the Histadrut election results as he had hoped, to demonstrate to the administration that the Israeli public is firmly behind his foreign policy positions.

At all his appearances during the Histradut election campaign, Shamir insisted the vote would be more a referendum on national policy issues than trade union matters.

Shamir had hoped to show that his party made significant inroads in what has always been a bastion of Labor strength.

This he failed to accomplish, although the Likud vote was a substantial improvement over the 22 percent it garnered in the last Histadrut elections in 1985.

Adding to Shamir’s headaches was the high profile discord over policy within Likud that commentators pointed to as a reason for its indifferent performance.

But Shamir, who left for the United States late Monday night, put on a brave face.

He insisted he was “not disappointed” by the Histadrut results and that in fact, his party achieved a victory by scoring higher than it had four years ago despite the fact that Likud was “fighting on turf that is unfamiliar to us.”

According to Shamir, the increase in the order of 25 percent was further evidence of a continuing national swing toward Likud.

But Kessar and other Labor leaders contend that the results mean the steady slippage toward the right in recent years has been halted.

The Histadrut vote was in fact Labor’s most hopeful electoral achievement in years.

“This shows what Labor can do when the whole party works together” declared Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader.

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