Rabin, Eyeing Prime Ministership, Outlines Priorities and Strategies

Yitzhak Rabin, considered virtually certain to be Israel’s next prime minister, has made clear that he intends to run the victorious Labor Party with a strong hand and will be beholden to no political or ideological bloc.

He promised a “reordering of national priorities” with emphasis on tackling pressing social problems, such as unemployment, and advancing the peace process without compromising Israel’s security.

Rabin told a news conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that he hoped to set up a “stable government” that would be based “not only on one party on the left, but on the religious and other parties” that accept Labor’s leadership and “our basic policies.”

He said his government would “reflect neither the extreme left nor the extreme right, but the views of the majority of Israeli citizens,” which the election results showed support Labor’s policies.

Rabin spoke on the basis of almost-complete returns from Tuesday’s elections, which gave the Labor-led left-wing bloc 62 Knesset seats, more than enough to block a Likud attempt to form a government with the far-right and religious parties.

Labor won 45 seats, up from 38 in the outgoing Knesset. The leftist Meretz emerged with 12, making it Israel’s third largest party. Observers said the soldiers vote, not yet in, would not significantly change that picture.

But Rabin, who is more hawkish than many in his party, would not be comfortable governing alone with the ardent “doves” of Meretz. He is therefore not averse to taking some of the strictly Orthodox parties into his government and possibly even one on the far right.

ORTHODOX MAY BE READY TO JOIN

The leader of the strictly Orthodox United Torah Front, Avraham Shapiro, has already dropped broad hints that he would join a Laborled government if the party’s sages approved.

Arye Deri, leader of the strictly Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, which gained two seats for a total of seven in the new Knesset, also hinted that the Labor option was open. But he said Shas would not want to be the only religious party in the same coalition with Meretz, which is perceived as hostile to the Orthodox establishment.

Meretz for its part protested angrily at Labor’s intention to negotiate in tandem with all prospective partners rather than set up a narrow, first-stage government with it as the sole partner and then talk to other prospective partners.

But Rabin and other Labor figures said they intend to proceed on a broad front and not tie themselves to Meretz for fear of prejudicing initial talks with the Orthodox.

Observers predicted that the outcome would find Meretz and the strictly Orthodox haredim uneasy bedfellows in the same government.

The National Religious Party, which represents the Orthodox Zionist movement, could also be included, though its hawkish leaders are insisting they will not abandon Likud.

Rafael Eitan’s far-right Tsomet, which soared from two to seven Knesset seats, is another possibility for a broader coalition.

OPPOSED TO ‘POLITICAL SETTLEMENTS’

At his news conference, Rabin enumerated his party’s basic policies:

*Advancement of the peace process, first and foremost by negotiations with the Palestinians under the framework laid down in Madrid last October, the goal being to achieve the autonomy agreement prescribed by the Camp David Accords.

*A “reordering of national priorities” so that government funding goes not to “political settlements” but to create jobs and help resettle immigrants.

*Implementation of the electoral reforms introduced in the outgoing Knesset, “but not in the warped way they emerged in the eventual legislation.”

*Repairing Israel’s strained relations with the United States.

On that point, Rabin said he had “no promises” but believed on the basis of his long experience with U.S. diplomacy that Israel would receive the $10 billion in U.S.-guaranteed loans for immigrant absorption, as a result of his modified settlements policy.

“I have opposed political settlements for more than 20 years,” the 70-year-old Rabin declared. He defined political settlements as those outside Greater Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.

He called on the outgoing government not to make any new contracts or commitments for such settlements from now until the time he takes office.

Rabin said he wanted to set up his government quickly, but observed that he had “many options.”

Apparently seeking to temper in advance the demands by potential partners in the religious and right-wing blocs, Rabin warned that he would accept a Labor-Meretz government if the other prospective partners made the negotiations too difficult.

Rabin indicated that while he had not limited the list of prospective partners, he did not expect Likud to be among them. He was confident, he said, that a “stable government” under his leadership would be able to implement his policies even with Likud in opposition and fighting hard against them.

SHAMIR HINTS HE’LL STEP DOWN

Meanwhile, gloom prevailed in Likud circles, but there was no sentiment to join a Labor-led coalition in order to stay in the government.

Instead, the “long knives” began to emerge. Recriminations were flying, and leading party figures were preparing for a bitter battle of succession.

Yitzhak Shamir, 76, made clear in a predawn radio interview Wednesday that he would soon step down as party leader. “I am at the end of the road,” the weary, deeply disappointed prime minister said.

Shamir disclosed that even if Likud had won the election, he would have quit before the end of his term.

Some observers expected Shamir to throw his weight behind the candidacy of one of Likud’s young rising stars, if only to foil the ambitions of David Levy and Ariel Sharon to succeed him.

Shamir could also endorse the candidacy of Moshe Arens, his closest ally in the government. But the extent of Likud’s defeat indicated that the party needs a more forceful, charismatic figure if it is to make a comeback.

Totting up winners and losers, apart from Rabin himself, pundits singled out Rafael Eitan, leader of Tsomet, as the election’s great success story.

They pointed to Rabbi Eliezer Schach, the 96-year-old sage of Bnei Brak, as a big loser. Schach’s protege, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, plainly failed to bring voters over to the United Torah Front, which was an amalgamation of the strictly Orthodox Agudat Yisrael, Schach’s Degel HaTorah and Peretz, who sat in the outgoing Knesset as an independent.

Another big loser was Tehiya, the first of Israel’s far-right parties, which was completely wiped off the political map.

Former Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i’s New Liberal Party, a Likud breakaway, also failed to cross the 1.5 percent vote threshold.

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