Israel's Labor picks dovish Knesset slate
Party's move offers voters alternative to Sharon policies
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's Labor Party voters have lined up behind their moderate candidate for prime minister, fielding a slate of Knesset candidates led by one of his staunchest supporters.
Amram Mitzna, the Labor Party's prime minister candidate, has promised to restart peace talks immediately with the Palestinians, and the triumph of his supporters in Monday's primary is significant because the Labor Party is shaping up to offer Israeli voters a clear alternative to the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The center-left slate also means Sharon will have more trouble putting together a new unity government if he is re-elected.
After Sharon won a landslide election in 2001, he persuaded Labor to join a unity government that held together until October, when Labor bolted in a budget dispute.
Sharon, who has a wide lead in the polls, has said he wants to create a new unity government if he wins, but Mitzna has said he will not allow Labor to join. Labor's dovish slate of Knesset candidates means its faction in parliament would be less likely to cooperate with Sharon.
Sharon suffered a setback earlier this week when his Likud party central committee put together a slate of Knesset candidates who oppose his stand on the creation of a Palestinian state.
Sharon has said that -- with significant qualifications -- he is willing to go along with U.S. President Bush's road map for the creation of a Palestinian state. His foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose supporters won at least 10 key slots on the Likud candidate slate, opposes the Bush plan.
Israeli voters will go to the polls January 28 to choose a new prime minister and Knesset.
In Monday's voting among 111,000 Labor Party members, the top vote-getter was Matan Vilnai, a key Mitzna backer and former Science, Culture and Sport minister in the Israeli government.
Vilnai will be No. 4 on Labor's candidate slate. The top three slots are set aside for Mitzna; the man he defeated in Labor's leadership primary, former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer; and elder statesman Shimon Peres.
Mitzna has predicted Labor will capture up to 40 seats in the Knesset, but polls show the party winning only 19 to 20. Currently, Labor is the largest party in the Knesset, with 25 seats.
Under the Israeli electoral system, each party fields a slate of candidates. Seats are awarded under a proportional representation system in which the total vote is divided by 120, the number of seats in the Knesset. Thus, if a party were to win 10 percent of the vote, the top 12 candidates on its slate would win seats.
Sharon's Likud bloc, despite its split over how to deal with the Palestinians, is expected to win as many as 30 seats, with party officials predicting more.
Other new faces on the Labor slate include former Cabinet secretary Yitzhak Herzog, former Mossad spy agency director Danny Yatom and writer Eli Amir, all of whom favor a more aggressive attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
But one of the architects of the Oslo accords, Yossi Beilin, fared poorly -- placing 11th in the balloting -- and received the 31st slot on the Labor candidate list. A placement that low would put him well out of the running for a Knesset seat.
The Labor Party uses a system of reserved slots that is aimed at ensuring there is diversity on its candidate list.
A similar fate befell Yael Dayan, daughter of Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan and a long-time figure in the peace movement. She placed 15th in the voting and was given the 39th position on Labor's slate, virtually assuring she will lose her seat in the Knesset.
Yossi Sarid, chairman of the left-wing Meretz Party, said he believes his party is the "natural home" for Beilin and Dayan, but there is no indication either is willing to jump parties.