TEL AVIV (Feb. 20)
Yitzhak Shamir won a resounding endorsement Thursday from Likud’s huge Central Committee, which selected him to head the party for another four years.
The decision means Shamir will remain prime minister if Likud wins enough seats in the June 23 Knesset elections to form a government.
The 76-year-old premier easily outdistanced his rivals. By the final count, Shamir had 46 percent of the vote in the 3,000-member committee, compared to about 31 percent for Foreign Minister David Levy and 22 percent for Housing Minister Ariel Sharon.
Both Levy, who is more dovish than Shamir on foreign policy, and Sharon, a hard-line hawk, each claimed before the Central Committee convened that they were running to win.
But political observers suggested that neither realistically believed he could unseat Shamir and that both were merely positioning themselves for a future contest for party leadership after the aging Shamir steps down.
The Likud convention followed by a day Israel’s first U.S.-style primary election, conducted by the rival Labor Party.
Its leadership contest was decided by the party’s 150,000 registered members, who voted Wednesday at 700 polling stations around the country.
The main battle was between Shimon Peres, the incumbent party chairman, and his longtime rival, Yitzhak Rabin. The outcome gave Rabin a 40.5 to 34.5 percent edge over Peres.
By scaling the 40 percent mark, Rabin avoided a runoff election.
LABOR NOW TOUGHER TO BEAT
The two veterans, each approaching 70, easily shook off challenges from a younger generation of Laborites.
Yisrael Kessar, secretary-general of Histadrut, Israel’s powerful trade union federation, polled less than 20 percent of the vote. Ora Namir, one of only two women in Labor’s 39 member Knesset delegation, trailed far behind with 5.5 percent.
After 3 a.m. local time, Peres phoned Rabin to concede defeat and congratulate him.
Both men spoke of their future “cooperation” to secure the party’s return to power.
“That is the main thing,” said Rabin.
“No doubt about it,” echoed Peres.
Shamir declined to say which of the Labor contenders he considers the stronger candidate against Likud in the June 23 elections.
Most pollsters predict that Labor under Rabin will be much tougher to beat than Labor under Peres.
That, in fact, was the central plank of Rabin’s platform in his primary campaign.
Peres, who has been the party leader since 1977, campaigned on the strength of his government experience, having been the last Laborite to serve as prime minister.
Rabin was forced to resign that post 1977 in a scandal over his personal finances.