The scandal-tinged end of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's leadership and the curious spectacle of Rabin being constitutionally unable to resign until after the election have caused concern here and abroad over how Middle East peace efforts may be affected.
The answer is probably not very much. There is in fact, little actual movement towards peace. Compared to the gulf between Israeli and Arab views, and compared to the inherent parliamentary instability that will probably follow an Israeli election in which nobody wins a large majority, the leadership switch in the Labor Party does not mean all that much.
The Labor Party is committed to making territorial concessions in exchange for peace but the amount any electable Israeli government could give back is still so far from being an acceptable compromise for the Arabs that the differences between Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres fade into relative insignificance.
One cause of concern both here and abroad has been that Peres, the Labor party's selection to replace Rabin, has a reputation of being more hawkish than the prime minister. Perez has been making an effort to dispel this opinion and, as Israel's leading morning paper, Haaretz, said recently, "Declared political stands will lose much of their importance under the pressure of reality and Peres himself has already begun shifting toward the center of the party."
Peres will not change the Labor Party's stated willingness to cede territory for peace and the presence of Labor's doves, Yigal Allon and Abba Eban, as No. 2 and No. 3 on Labor's election lists is some assurance that the Labor Party will not swing far to the right. So was the recent decision of the dovish Mapam Party to stay within Labor's alignment.
The point is that the parameters of what a Labor prime minister - indeed any Israeli prime minister - can and cannot do in terms of exchanging territory for peace are too narrow to expect wide flucuations no matter who leads the party.
As one official said recently, Israel is not like Egypt where the removal of Sadat could change policy overnight.
But no Labor prime minister can agree to going back to 1967 borders, which Arabs insist upon, and the hammering out of a compromise is so far in the future as to make any concern about it at this stage premature.
The hawk-dove speculation about Peres also has very little meaning. The difference will be one of style and approach. Rabin's leadership was so weak and his inability to bring even his Cabinet along with him so obvious that his stepping down cannot be automatically considered a blow against the chances for peace.
Egypt's Anwar Sadat once said that he would prefer the arch hawk Golda Meir over Rabin because once Golda decided upon something she could make it stick. There is also concern that Rabin is now in a lame duck position and that peace initiatives will therefore have to be postponed.
Actually, Rabin has been a lame duck since he and his government resigned last December following the expulsion of the rightist National Religious Party from the coalition, ending the government's majority. He is now unable to resign because he is acting only as an interim prime minister until a new government can be formed following elections.
It is likely, but by no means certain, that Labor will win the election. But it is virtually certain that no matter who wins it will be necessary to form a coalition with one or more parties and this process could take until late June.
If Labor wins, it is by no means clear what concessions they would have to make to other parties in order to form a coalition government. Any serious move toward peace would have to await the outcome of these negotiations. Labor, if it wins at all, will probably win with less of a majority than before and the consequent dependence on coalition partners could lead to greater parliamentary instability.
Furthermore, it is likely that any government would have to take its case to the people and hold yet another election before it could cede territory on the occupied West Bank.
As for the Labor Party itself, which has ruled Israel since independence, the party has acted more quickly and with less rancor to mend its fences than might have been expected. The mood of Israel is not to condemn Rabin, as Nixon and Agnew were condemned. The difference, as one official put it, is that "Rabin, did not try to tough it out. Ethically he did the right thing by stepping down."
Evidence of this mood is the fact that Rabin is going to be allowed to run as a back bencher for the next Knesset (Parliament) and chances are he will win a seat.