Israeli leader soars in polls. But Peres unsure whether he can risk elections in hopes of forming government without right wing
Serving one year as Israel's prime minister has brought Shimon Peres a legitimacy that eluded him during four decades of political life. In a public opinion poll last month, 47.3 percent of those asked said they preferred Mr. Peres as prime minister. His rival, Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, was preferred by only 6.6 percent.
Even some of his political enemies speak highly of Peres's performance.
``Shimon Peres is a noble man,'' says Ehud Olmert, an opposition member of parliament. ``His advantages are that he's a good manager. He is a patient man and a workaholic.''
Only a year ago, Peres was depicted as a loser who had led the Labor Party, once the dominant power in Israeli politics, to three defeats in national elections.
But during his first year of office, Peres has emerged as the conciliator in a bitterly divided Cabinet. He won important votes on withdrawing Israeli troops from south Lebanon, imposing a Draconian austerity program, and even managed to make some cuts in Israel's bloated budget.
The hottest political debate in Israel now is whether Peres will be able to parlay his remarkable political rehabilitation into a new lease on life for Labor during his remaining year in office.
Labor Party officials view the coming months in almost apocalyptic terms for the future of their party and, some insist, for Israel itself. The same poll that ranks Peres so high also revealed that extremist views on both the left and right are gaining strength at the expense of the two large parties.
Some Labor stalwarts see the role of their party and Peres as crucial to turning Israel away from the ultra-nationalistic policies espoused by Likud hardliners and more right-wing parties and back toward a policy of compromise with Israel's Arab neighbors.
This view is shared by some United States officials in the Middle East and in Washington. The Reagan administration has watched anxiously from the sidelines as Peres has painfully manuevered around the Likud to offer some encouragement to Jordan's peace efforts.