Israel's major political parties picked their leaders this week in preparation for the June national elections. But it looks more and more as if each leader, who is also the designated party candidate for prime minister, will run at, rather than against, the other.
On Thursday, the ruling Likud Party chose Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to top its list of parliamentary candidates.
At a convention of 3,100 party activists, Shamir won 46% of the vote, topping by 15% his nearest rival, Foreign Minister David Levy. Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who has vigorously pursued a policy of seeking settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and has hopes of becoming defense minister, finished a distant third.
On Wednesday, Yitzhak Rabin, a war hero and former prime minister, was chosen to lead the Labor ticket in a primary that attracted more than 100,000 voters.
"Please remember we are not celebrating any victory, but merely ending one chapter toward the historic confrontation in the next few weeks and months," Shamir said after Thursday's vote was counted.
Both familiar faces in Israeli politics, Shamir and Rabin will campaign on the equally familiar issues of peace and security. Each will claim that only he can be trusted with the task of making peace with hostile Arab neighbors. Early predictions say that neither will be able to command a majority of the 120 parliamentary seats at stake and that the two party leaders will have to seek each other out to form a coalition.
Shamir, 76, overcame the challenges not only of Levy, who was trying to cash in on his prominence as foreign minister, but also of Sharon, the housing minister who has taken a rigid stand regarding peace talks.
Levy's vote put him in a strong position to claim the No. 2 spot on the party list of parliamentary candidates, due to be chosen next week. Such a spot would put Levy in line to retain the prestigious post of foreign minister, if Likud wins. The showing by Levy, who is of Moroccan origin, was attributed to his hold on North African and Near Eastern party members.
But Sharon suffered a setback in his quest to gain the defense portfolio. Coming in with less than 23% of the vote--and behind Levy--was a blow to Sharon's prestige. It throws into question the extent of support for his pro-annexation view of resolving the conflict with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.