Israel's Labor Party nominates dove Weizman for president

January 15, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Israel's governing Labor Party nominated as its candidate for president yesterday Ezer Weizman, a former air force commander and defense minister who became a "super dove" while helping to make peace with Egypt.

Mr. Weizman, 68, won 52 percent of the votes from 1,186 members of the Labor Party's central committee, easily defeating another liberal, Arie "Lova" Eliav, and a center-right candidate, Shlomo Hillel.

Dismissed from the "national unity government" of Yitzhak Shamir, then prime minister, three years ago for talking with leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mr. Weizman symbolizes to many Israelis their quest for peace with the country's Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.

He must be formally elected president by the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and the Labor Party will have to campaign hard among smallerparties to ensure a majority for him against a candidate likely to be nominated by the opposition Likud bloc.

Chaim Herzog, the current president, has held the office since 1983.

Mr. Weizman, who broke with Israeli political tradition to campaign for the job, promised to "bring leadership" to the presidency, a largely ceremonial post that could become much more important under an activist politician.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has been noticeably cool to Mr. Weizman's candidacy, apparently out of concern that Mr. Weizman's maverick nature, his penchant for personal diplomacy and his readiness to come to terms with the Palestinians could become a problem in peace negotiations.

Mr. Weizman, a nephew of Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, was born into a Zionist family in Tel Aviv, grew up in Haifa and, at 18, joined the British air force to fight in World War II.

He lent his support to a national unity government led by Golda Meir, then organized the 1977 Likud victory under Menachem Begin and became defense minister. But he quit in 1980 over what he saw as Mr. Begin's reluctance to honor a commitment to grant self-rule to the Palestinians.

Opening his own contacts with the PLO, in violation of government policy and Israeli law, Mr. Weizman, by then a member of the Labor Party's left wing, was forced out of a later Cabinet in December 1989.

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