News Analysis: Results of Israels two primaries create highly polarized slates

JERUSALEM — Israel's two major political parties have emerged from pre-election primaries with slates that are markedly more extreme than the images the parties sought to project.

In Monday's Labor Party primary, a longtime and outspoken dove, Minister of Tourism Uzi Baram, topped the field.

Baram, 59, emerged as the second most popular figure in Israel's ruling Labor Party, defeating two self-proclaimed future prime ministerial hopefuls, Foreign Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Haim Ramon.

Baram will be listed behind Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was already chosen as the party's candidate for prime minister and was therefore assured the top slot.

The Likud primaries, which took place a day later, catapulted former Israel Defense Force general and political neophyte Yitzhak Mordechai to an equally unexpected victory.

The results of the primaries could complicate the parties' efforts to appeal to Israel's swing voters, whose preferences will decide the May 29 general election.

This sector of the electorate is traditionally identified as centrist. To attract their support, Labor has been stressing security concerns in its election campaign, while Likud has stressed its support of the peace process.

The main Labor Party slogan is "A Strong Israel with Peres." Likud's is "Peace with Security."

These platforms hardly fit the trends reflected in the primary results, but the reason for this disparity is clear. The primaries are not "open"; they are limited to registered and paid-up party members.

Characteristically, such people are more ideological than those who are politically unaffiliated. These voters favored the more radical candidates on each side of the political spectrum.

As a result of the Likud primary, Mordechai will actually appear fourth on the list because of Likud's recent merger with two smaller opposition parties, Gesher, led by David Levy, and Tsomet, led by former army chief Rafael Eitan.

Topping the combined list will be Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by Levy and Eitan, then Mordechai.

As a result of the primary, arch-hardliner Ariel Sharon will follow Mordechai on the list. Sharon, the former defense minister and current Knesset member, successfully brokered the merger with Gesher and Tsomet.

The next two places on the Likud list went to Moshe Katsav and Ze'ev "Benny" Begin, neither of whom is considered a moderate.

Only then do the names of two Likud moderates appear: Dan Meridor, a former justice minister, and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

For their part, Labor officials on the whole were pleased with the party list that emerged from Monday's primary.

Rounding out the top five Labor slots after Peres and Baram were Barak, Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ramon.

Finishing in sixth place in the Labor primary was Finance Minister Avraham Shohat, followed by Nissim Zvilli — a spot protected for the party's secretary general — and Health Minister Ephraim Sneh.

Ninth place, a spot promised to the woman who finished first in the primary, was taken by Dalia Itzik.

Deputy Defense Minister Ori Orr came in next, followed by Minister Yossi Beilin, Peres' closest adviser on foreign policy matters.

Baram made it clear that he no longer necessarily accepted the conventional wisdom that Barak, the former IDF chief of staff, and Ramon, the former Histadrut chairman, would battle between themselves for the succession to the prime ministership when Peres, if re-elected, steps down in 1999.

Baram's dyed-in-the-wool dovishness attracted public attention in the late 1980s, when he refused to join a Likud-Labor government of national unity on the grounds that the Likud's opposition to peace moves would paralyze the government.

A onetime secretary general of the party, he was among the first of Labor's Knesset members to call openly for mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Voters in the primary "punished" some lackluster Cabinet figures, including Trade Minister Michael Harish, who was squeezed out of the list of so-called "safe seats," 42 to 46 positions that are expected to win seats in the next Knesset.

Labor voters also dealt a blow to Minister of Religious Affairs Shimon Shetreet, who has embarrassed the prime minister by some high-profile moves against the Orthodox establishment.

He dropped to No. 42 and might find himself even lower if the party leadership decides to advance a representative of the immigrant population to a safe slot.

The Labor primary produced 14 "new faces" among the first 44 names on the list, and the party's campaign is now expected to accentuate the new blood injected into the party's veins.

Among the new names are Shlomo Ben-Ami, Moroccan-born professor of history at Tel Aviv University and former Israeli ambassador to Spain; Tsalli Reshef, Jerusalem attorney and longtime leader of Peace Now; and Ron Huldai, highly regarded head of the leading Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv.