The campaign for outright annexation by Israel of the Golan Heights is casting an ominous shadow over the current Labor Party convention. The dispute over what should be done with this strategic slice of Israeli-occupied Syrian territory has become entangled in the feud between the two contenders for the party's leadership: Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
The new party leader, to be selected by secret ballot Dec. 18 in Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, will become the nation's next prime minister should the Begin coalition government be defeated (as currently expected) in next year's general election.
After three years as party chairman, Mr. Peres is the favorite to win the party nomination. In order to swim safely in the Labor Party's mainstream, he has substantially modified his once hawkish views.
But his archrival, former Prime Minister Rabin, has taken over the late Yigal Allon's militant faction of the party, including its frank advocacy of permanent retention of the Golan Heights -- even if this should prevent Syria from considering a negotiated settlement with Israel at a later date. (Israeli forces seized the Golan Heights during the 1967 Mideast war.)
Shortly before the convention opened here, the militant Kibbutz wing of the party held a special session to confirm its belief in annexing Golan Heights. Mr. Rabin, being the Kibbutzniks' candidate for the leadership, had no choice but to adopt a suitably hawkish position -- even though uncharacteristic of a politician who previously posed as a dove.
The platform adopted by the newly amalgamated United Kibbutz Movement for submission to the party states that "the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel and Israel's sovereignty over the Golan is a guarantee of security and peace."
One representative of the new network of Israeli kibbutzim in the Golan Heights, Yehuda Harvel, declared that "it will be impossible to bring peace to Israel if it will mean that we residents of the heights will have to fear for our safety and security."
This effectively divides Mr. Rabin from Mr. Peres on a significant political issue. Yet the platform plank was not adopted on Mr. Rabin's own initiative but rather was bequeathed to him as the faction's titular leader.
The real difference between the two men is much more personal than political or ideological. Indeed, Mr. Rabin's dislike of Mr. Peres was stated unequivocally in the Rabin autobiography published during the bitter period following his resignation as prime minister three years ago.
Hence, Mr. Peres' anticipated victory in the two-way race for the party's nomination is expected to leave several questions unanswered:
1. Will the Rabin camp, dominated by the United Kibbutz Movement militants, merge with the majority or function as a recalcitrant band of internal opponents?
2. Will Mr. Peres be forced to grant Mr. Rabin a post in his future Cabinet, thereby setting the stage for a repeat of the ill will that characterized their last term in office when Mr. Rabin held the top job?
3. Will the Labor hawks commit the party to hard-line positions -- especially with regard to Syria and the Golan Heights -- thereby weakening the Camp David peace process?
The answers will come with the forging of a political policy platform immediately after the Peres-Rabin contest is over.