Eitan to Run for Prime Minister in Israel’s First Direct Election

Rafael Eitan, the charismatic leader of the right-wing Tsomet Party, plans to run for prime minister, a move that could skew the race in Israel’s first direct election for the post.

With Eitan’s announcement, the campaign for prime minister has generated new excitement.

The time-honored tradition of electing a government according to a system of proportional party strength was changed after years of criticism that such a system did not truly represent the popular choice.

In the next election, Israelis will vote directly for an individual, rather than a party slate, for the nation’s top post.

The new system could lead to a situation in which the prime minister represents one party, while a different party holds a majority in the Knesset.

Eitan, popularly known as “Raful,” is expected to present a serious challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu, the recently elected Likud leader, as the front-running rightist candidate for the premiership.

Tsomet also has resolved to establish its own youth movement, which, it says, will seek to inculcate the party’s values and the love of the biblical Land of Israel in its young members.

These two developments, taken together, have created interest and speculation in the Israeli political community.

Many observers see Eitan’s move as a reflection of widespread dissatisfaction on the right with Netanyahu’s leadership in the wake of the accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The next election, to be held by 1996 at the latest, will take place under a newly legislated procedure involving two separate ballots: one for parties and one for prime ministerial candidates.

Eitan, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, entered politics in the mid-1980s through the nationalist Tehiya Party. He soon quarreled with Tehiya’s most prominent politician, Geula Cohen, and eventually seceded from the party.

His newly formed Tsomet party was the surprise of the 1992 election, winning eight seats and becoming the third-largest party in the Knesset.

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