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Rabin Focuses on Domestic Crisis to Shore Up Support for Labor Party

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took time off from the diplomatic front early this week to deal with a domestic battle that threatens to undermine the strength of the Labor Party.

On Sunday, he met with the ruling council of Mapam, a member of the Meretz bloc and a former longtime component of Labor, to plead with them to support Labor in the upcoming elections for the leadership of the powerful Histadrut trade federation.

The meeting came at a time when Labor needs to avoid any signs of weakness as it attempts to negotiate and implement the self-rule accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Labor is under intense pressure from the right-wing opposition to pull out of the peace talks in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in the Israeli towns of Afula, Ashdod and Hadera.

“What is really at stake,” said Rabin, “is preserving the strength of the peace camp.”

Last week, former Health Minister Haim Ramon threw the Labor Party into turmoil with his decision to run against his party’s incumbent candidate for the post of Histadrut secretary-general. Members of the Meretz bloc, Rabin’s left-wing coalition ally, have already voiced their support for Ramon.

In the late 1960s, Mapam joined with the more centrist Mapai party to form the Labor Party. But it left Labor in the last Knesset elections to join with the Ratz (Citizens’ Rights) and Shinui parties to form the Meretz bloc.

With last week’s decision, Ramon appears to have put himself beyond the party pale by setting up a non-party list that is specifically intended to stop Haim Haberfeld, the incumbent Histadrut boss and the Labor Party’s choice for another term, when elections are held in mid-May.

A poll conducted last week showed Ramon beating Haberfeld in the countrywide Histadrut elections.

Haberfeld is regarded by the younger generation of the Labor Party as a “political dinosaur,” whose attitude to the Histadrut has, they believe, already brought the huge union into disrepute with employees and employers alike.

Ramon said he would be joined by two other young, popular Labor politicians, Amir Peretz and Samuel Avital. Ramon said that he, Peretz and Avital intend to remain Labor Party members.

But Labor Party officials have said they will soon seek to expel Ramon and his two allies from the party.

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