Former President Yitzhak Navon’s apparent decision to involve himself in the upcoming election campaign has raised the possibility of a three-way leadership struggle within Labor Party ranks. A similar three-way struggle is also looming for Likud, prompting some observers to suggest that Shimon Peres and Premier Yitzhak Shamir may both have a stake in holding the elections as soon as possible.
Navon has cut short his visit to the United States and is returning home tomorrow in view of the latest political developments, the army radio reported today. Labor MK Uzi Baram, Navon’s foremost supporter in the Knesset, said he hoped a leadership contest could be avoided.
But he seemed to imply that Navon’s backers will push his candidacy for the top spot on Labor’s election list which would make Navon Premier if Labor wins the elections. Peres, the Labor Party’s chairman, and former Premier Yitzhak Rabin would be relegated to the second and third places on the list.
PUSHING FOR PERES-RABIN-NAVON TROIKA
Peres’ supporters are pushing the idea of a Peres-Rabin-Navon troika to mute the bitter rivalry between Peres and Rabin and bring the popular Navon into the party’s top ranks. Labor Party Secretary General Haim Barlev said yesterday that such a structure would be best for the party. The Peres camp hopes Navon will agree to accept “a place in the top trio,” after Peres and Rabin.
Navon has indicated in the past that he has no wish to challenge Peres who is a personal friend. Should he change his mind, Rabin is expected to throw his hat in the ring since in a three way race he could not be branded a “spoiler.” His supporters, meeting over the weekend, made it clear that Rabin is “keeping his options open.”
SHARON SEEKING TOP SPOT IN LIKUD
There is similar ferment in Likud. Former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told an audience of enthusiastic supporters in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter last night that he would seek the top spot in his party. He said there would be three candidates, Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Deputy Premier David Levy, who originally challenged Shamir for leadership after Menachem Begin resigned, and himself.
Such a three-way race would determine who becomes Premier, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister in a new Likud government, Sharon said. Political observers noted that he omitted Defense Minister Moshe Arens, indicating that Sharon intends to challenge the man who replaced him.
Sharon, currently a Minister-Without-Portfolio, has been openly critical of Arens’ performance. He blames his policies for the return of Palestine Liberation Organization fighters to Beirut and the general deterioration of Israel’s political influence in Lebanon.
Sharon also criticized Arens last night for unflattering comments he allegedly made about U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to a New York Times reporter who quoted them in an article published yesterday. Arens has vigorously denied making the remarks attributed to him.
PRESSURE FOR EARLY ELECTION DATE
According to some observers, these pressures within the two major parties may force Shamir and Peres to agree on an early election date. The reasoning is that the longer the campaign, the greater the chance of leadership struggles developing within Labor and Likud, with those challenging the incumbents gaining strength.
Shamir and Peres are expected to meet today or tomorrow to discuss an election date. Shamir said on a television interview last night that it would be “appropriate and healthier” if both major parties could agree. He said Likud has good reasons for seeking a fall election but would listen carefully to Labor’s arguments for a late spring or early summer date.
Peres, for his part, called on Shamir to agree to a fair fight without rabble-rousing speeches or personal insults. He suggested that Likud’s “new leadership” gave grounds to hope for a more “civilized” campaign than that of 1981. He was referring to the vitriolic campaigning of former Premier Menachem Begin which, in some instances, encouraged his supporters to attempt to disrupt Labor Party rallies by violent means.
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