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Amid Signs of Growing Labor Pains, Rabin Lashes out at His Party Critics

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Confronted by growing signs of internal distress within the Labor Party and widespread talk of its disintegration, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has lashed out at his critics within the party.

Speaking at a meeting of the party’s Central Committee in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Rabin called for local party leaders on the Histadrut trade union level who had made coalition deals with the Likud opposition to be drummed out of the party.

Rabin left the hall when the foremost of these local leaders, Tel Aviv’s Gershon Gelman, rose to speak and defend himself.

Speaking later to reporters, Rabin stopped short of confirming speculation that his longtime rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, is behind the disaffection within the party and the rebelliousness at the local level.

Rabin said that he and Peres were “collaborating closely on issues of national policy,” suggesting that their collaboration was less than close on domestic and party-related matters.

Rabin faces deep dissent and even bitterness within the ranks of his party following Labor’s unprecedented defeat in the May 10 Histadrut trade union elections.

Renegade Laborite Haim Ramon, the former minister of health, ran — and won — at the head of his own list, known as Ram.

Rabin has repeatedly accused the previous Histadrut secretary-general, Labor’s Haim Haberfeld, of deliberately delaying the transfer of power to Ramon.

He has also accused Haberfeld of backing local leaders who, contrary to the party leadership’s specific instructions, concluded local coalition deals with the Likud.

Rabin wanted all such deals, on the national and the local levels, to be made between Labor and Ram.

Political observers here have set this discord against a wider backdrop of profound political uncertainty in the wake of the Israel-Palestinian peace initiative and in anticipation of the upcoming elections, which are to be held no later than 1996.

Due to recent electoral reform legislation, the elections will be conducted under a new two-vote system, which for the first time will enable Israelis to vote directly for their prime ministerial candidate.

Israelis will vote separately for the Knesset list of their choice.

The growing sense of political uncertainty goes beyond the usual pundits.

Police Minister Moshe Shahal said in an Israel Television interview Sunday that he expected vast changes in “the political map” during the latter half of the 1990s.

Shahal predicted these changes would affect both Labor and Likud, creating new blocs and political alliances.

One upshot of the atmosphere of political uncertainty has been the evolution of a ground-swell against the long-awaited electoral reform.

Led by Labor Party doves, prominent among them Knesset member Avraham Burg, these newly outspoken anti-reformers argue that the proposed new system is proving dangerous even before it goes into effect.

They say the system will encourage demagogic, public-relations-oriented politics and could produce a prime minister and a Knesset engaged in a permanent deadlock.

Opponents of electoral reform also have powerful support in the Likud, where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is among the most consistent critics of the new legislation.

Burg said Sunday he would introduce a bill designed to postpone the electoral reforms.

In the current unpredictable climate of political opinion, it is not at all clear whether or not such a bill would pass.

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