Asking Israelis to vote on peace May vote: Campaigning could delay Syria talks while creating mandate for them.

February 10, 1996

THE ELECTION Prime Minister Shimon Peres is expected to call for May 28 will introduce a constitutional innovation in Israel -- a cross between the presidential system and Israel's pure parliamentary tradition. In addition to voting for national party lists and thus creating a proportional vote for the Knesset, or parliament, Israelis will vote for an individual to be prime minister. This is a first.

The effect already has been to push quarreling parties into coalitions that more closely resemble our two-party system. Another result will be to enhance the personal standing of the prime minister. What will happen should the executive and parliamentary results contradict each other remains to be innovated.

The imminence of the choice finds Prime Minister Shimon Peres more "prime ministerial" in the eyes of the electorate than he has ever been. He is taking advantage of disarray in the opposition Likud Party resulting from majority approval of the peace agreement with the PLO.

Even as Likud tries to mend its fences to rally ultra-nationalist parities behind its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, he is distancing himself from Likud's condemnation of the PLO peace accords. Polls showing Mr. Peres leading Mr. Netanyahu by either 51 percent to 36 percent or 52 percent to 30 percent explain why. The parliamentary polls are closer but also put Mr. Peres' Labor Party and its allies ahead of Likud and its allies.

The trial of Yigal Amir, the assassin of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, is shocking many Israelis at the extremism that ultra-nationalism produced. This helps the electoral cause of peace, the Labor Party and Mr. Peres.

Mr. Peres sees the election as providing a mandate for him to swap land for peace with Syria. But he is unlikely to push substantially forward with that before the vote. Similarly, President Hafez el Assad of Syria is unwilling to be rushed by the electoral concerns of Israel.

So the short-range outlook for the Wye Plantation talks between the two nations, as brokered by the U.S., is dimmed by Israeli politics. The long-range outlook is improved.

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