JERUSALEM (Mar. 19)
Israel’s election campaign picked up tempo this week with internal strains threatening splits in both major parties.
Likud is in greater disarray at the moment because of a power struggle at the very top over the composition of its election slate for the June 23 ballot.
But the rival Labor Party faces a similar brawl when it selects its candidates in a primary vote later this month.
The internal political wrangles were overshadowed this week by the diplomatic wrangle with Washington over the U.S. loan guarantees and allegations that Israel illegally transferred U.S. weapons technology to third countries. Israel hotly denied the charge.
But whatever develops from those issues, observers here do not entirely exclude the possibility of a complete rupture between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his disgruntled foreign minister, David Levy.
Levy accuses Shamir and his close ally, Defense Minister Moshe Arens, of acting in collusion with Housing Minister Ariel Sharon to steamroller their prearranged list of candidates through the Likud Central Committee elections March 1 and 2, at the expense of Levy and his allies.
The foreign minister says he will not accept what he calls “majoritization,” a dictatorship of the majority to the exclusion of the minority.
SOME URGING LEVY TO SECEDE
In negotiating sessions between lieutenants of the two sides, Levy’s people demanded 30 percent of all party offices and appointments.
They hit on that figure because Levy won 31 percent of the Central Committee vote in a direct challenge to Shamir for party leadership last month.
While the prime minister prevailed with 46 percent, his rancor toward Levy hardly diminished.
One leading member of the Levy camp, Kiryat Shmona Mayor Prosper Azran, told reporters Tuesday he was quitting Likud and might join Rafael Eitan’s far-right Tsomet party.
Other Levy supporters have been openly urging their leader to secede from Likud and form an electoral alliance with another party or with a disaffected politician, such as Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i, whose peace overtures toward Likud have been rejected.
The dispute is becoming a serious embarrassment to Likud as it gears up for the elections.
For one thing, Shamir is unable to make crucial appointments to the party’s campaign headquarters staff, since they, too, are at issue between his and Levy’s camps.
Levy’s supporters warn, moreover, that their man attracts the support of middle-of-the-road voters drawn to his relative moderation on defense and foreign policy.
Without a contented Levy at the forefront of its campaign, they warn, the Likud may forfeit that critical bloc.
Levy himself says the Shamir-Arens-Sharon alliance means a sharp lurch to the right for the party and a move away from the peace commitment, which he says he best personifies among Likud leaders.
LABOR FACING SIMILAR PROBLEMS
At first blush, it would appear that Labor would rejoice over Likud’s public discomfiture. But in truth, Labor activists view it with concern, because Likud’s troubles may well foreshadow a similar embarrassing crisis in their own ranks.
In the Labor scenario, Shimon Peres, who lost the party’s leadership to his longtime rival Yitzhak Rabin, would play Levy’s role.
Peres supporters have warned against an attempt by the Rabin camp to weight the party’s election list in favor of its side to the relative exclusion of Peres loyalists, who account for 35 percent of Labor’s strength.
It boded ill for peace and harmony in Labor ranks when pro-Rabin activists in the Haifa area circulated a list of 15 names last weekend, which, they claimed, were Rabin’s choices in the party primaries to be held March 30.
Peres was not among the 15, nor were any of his top supporters.
Rabin headquarters quickly dissociated itself from the list. The party chairman’s aides insisted he is urging the 150,000 registered Laborites eligible to vote in the primaries to ensure top spots for Peres and for Yisrael Kessar, the Histadrut secretary-general, who received 20 percent of the vote in the Labor Party’s leadership race last month.
But no other members of the Peres camp were mentioned, raising fear among Labor activists that the “majoritization” affliction that bedevils Likud is contagious.