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Labor Party members elect Ehud Barak as new chairman

JERUSALEM, June 3 (JTA) — Members of the opposition Labor Party have overwhelmingly elected Knesset member Ehud Barak as the new party chairman. Exit polls gave Barak 57 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primaries, according to Israel Television. Knesset member Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Israeli- Palestinian peace accords was expected to come in a distant second with 28 percent, followed by Knesset members Shlomo Ben-Ami and Ephraim Sneh. Voter turnout exceeded 70 percent, dispelling initial speculation that few people would cast ballots on the assumption that Barak would win anyway. Tuesday’s voting by Labor’s 167,000 registered members marked a milestone for the party, signaling a transfer of power, which was for more than two decades held by former Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, to a younger generation. Barak described himself this week as the heir to the warrior-turned- peacemaker Rabin. “I see myself as his follower and the one to continue his legacy,” Barak told a news conference Monday. Barak, a hawkish former Israel Defense Force chief of staff, is expected to square off in the national elections scheduled for the year 2000 against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak said he would soon convene the other three candidates and senior party officials from other camps to head off a “settling of scores” within the party. During a Labor Party convention last month, Barak initially objected to the adoption of a party plank that would not rule out the creation of an independent Palestinian state with limited sovereignty. Barak ultimately withdrew his objections, since the plank also stressed that the envisioned Palestinian state could not have an army or forge military pacts with other countries, and that it must keep its air space open to Israel’s air force.