Hopes for progress in Middle East peace negotiations were marginally strengthened by the party leadership struggles in Israel, preparing for the June 23 election. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who returns to the leadership of the opposition Labor Party, favors the negotiations and the concept of swapping land for peace. He has said that, in power, he would put a stop to settlement-building on the West Bank.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who remains at the helm of Likud, is his old seemingly intransigent self. But in holding on with 46.2 percent of some 2,800 party central committee members, his stiffest challenge came on the dovish side from Foreign Minister David Levy, with 31.2 percent. Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, the extremist builder of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, got only 22.3 percent and is no longer a threat.
The Labor Party leadership election was notable as Israel's first American-style primary, with registered party members voting in place of the central committee. Mr. Rabin was always more popular with the rank and file than Shimon Peres, the leader of the past 15 years. Mr. Peres has led the party to four defeats. Though he shared power with Mr. Shamir in a grand coalition, as prime minister from 1984 to 1986, polls have suggested that only under Mr. Rabin could Labor win enough seats to make that happen again.