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Peres Defeats Challenge by Rabin for Leadership of the Labor Party

Shimon Peres decisively defeated a challenge by former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin for leadership of the Labor Party at a meeting Sunday night of the party’s Central Committee.

But in doing so, he opened the door for a younger generation of Laborites to replace both veterans in time for the next Knesset elections.

The issue before the 1,363-member Central Committee was whether to hold elections for party chairman now or in 1992, when both Peres’ term and that of the 12th Knesset expire.

Rabin wanted elections this month. Peres insisted he be allowed to serve out the office to which he was re-elected in 1988.

The Central Committee voted in favor of Peres by a margin of 54-46 percent, after an exhaustive but well-disciplined debate.

In the course of the debate, Peres indicated he might step down at the end of his tenure to make way for new blood. Delivering a highly emotional speech from a written text, he called directly on Rabin to enable a new generation of leaders to reach the top “before 1992.”

That was seen as a broad hint that if he stayed on as chairman, he would encourage other would-be candidates for party leadership to grow in public stature during the next two years and would open up the top jobs in the party hierarchy to a broader slate before the next elections.

At least two young hopefuls, Ora Namir and Moshe Shahal, announced they would be candidates. More are expected to enter the contest.

The Central Committee also accepted Peres’ proposal that the next chairman be elected by a series of primaries in which rank-and-file party members could vote.

TWO POLITICAL CAREERS MAY BE OVER

There seemed to be no rancor between Peres and Rabin after the Central Committee’s decision.

Rabin made clear he would not regard his defeat as a reason to withdraw from the party’s leadership ranks, and Peres indicated he would do nothing to remove him.

But political observers believe the political careers of both men may be nearing their end.

Rabin is considered unlikely to mount a new challenge, and Peres, having bested his longtime rival, may now find it easier to face the prospect of bowing out as the next Knesset elections approach, the observers said.

Peres has been Labor Party chairman since March 1977. Rabin’s most effective arguments against him were that he had failed to lead Labor to an electoral victory over Likud since then and that he muffed the chance to form a Labor-led coalition after the Likud government was toppled by a no-confidence vote in March.

But Peres countered that Rabin was a full partner in the failed coalition-building attempt and could not disclaim his share of responsibility.

After the vote, Peres called for unity. Rabin said he accepted the Central Committee’s decision. He said he hopes to work with Peres, adding, “He is the chairman, and I am a member.”

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