Even if polls prove wrong in suggesting the left-leaning Labor party will end the right-wing Likud group's 15-year domination of Israeli politics, tomorrow's national election could mark the start of big changes in the party of Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens, Ariel Sharon and the late Menachem Begin.
Prime Minister Shamir, 76, might briefly hang on as a prominent ** player, but observers say a new, more centrist Likud waits impatiently in the wings. Its leaders are an ascendant collection of forty-something politicians born or raised in Israel, in contrast to Mr. Shamir and other old-line party leaders native to pre-World War II Eastern Europe. Some of the new leaders were educated '' in the United States. Indeed, all seem as well-spoken, contemporary and pragmatic as any savvy pol inside the Washington beltway. (While Labor also has its share of young leaders, they reportedly lack the mass appeal of the new Likud stars.)
An updated, American style among Israeli politicians does not, of course, tell the whole story. Far more significantly, the leaders at the head of the emerging Likud group -- Zeev Binyamin "Benny" Begin, the son of the late Likud prime minister and a highly touted future candidate for the same post; foreign spokesman and deputy foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu; Police Minister Roni Milo; and Justice Minister Dan Meridor -- are said to be more willing than the old Likud bosses to make concessions to the roughly 2 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
For years, the older Likudniks have clung to the belief that the occupied territories are key to the existence and security of a "Greater Israel." The younger leaders, though hardly agreeable to assigning large chunks of the land to Arab occupants, appear to realize some territorial concessions are necessary to break the cycle of destruction that has marked Arab-Israeli relations. As Mr. Begin told the Washington Post, "You have to leave room for history and reality and life to develop."
The 48-year-old Mr. Begin, a former geologist, is perhaps the brightest of the new stars. His popularity rating is as high as that of any other Israeli politician. Already there are predictions Mr. Begin will be the people's choice in 1996, when the election of the prime minister is handed to the voters.
A lot could yet happen in four years. Mr. Begin could be challenged by Messrs. Netanyahu, Milo or Meridor, or by some other relatively new face. Likud has no shortage of promising young leaders.
Israel's Rising Political Stars