peretz after election298.
(photo credit: Channel 2)
If November 13, the day of Amir Peretz's notorious English speech, was a day the Labor Party wishes it could forget, then the events of the past week might leave party members longing for collective amnesia.
For the entire duration of its election campaign, Labor found itself alternatively defending and dismissing the speech Peretz gave in November during the Rabin memorial. That speech, with its halting, broken English, launched a slew of jokes, including a popular comedy skit, which was often referenced as the reason Peretz could not be taken seriously as a prime ministerial candidate.
This past week, Peretz's "social bloc," a possible Labor-led government that would include partners such as Meretz, Likud, NU-NRP, United Torah Judaism and Shas, disintegrated before it could begin to convene.
Labor officials have met with the leaders of those parties, but so far, only Labor has officially recommended to President Moshe Katsav that Peretz form the government.
"This whole move has not only weakened Labor in the eyes of the public, but it has weakened Peretz's bargaining chips with [Acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert," said one former party strategist.
The move has been seen as a "phenomenal blunder," said one veteran Labor MK, who added that many party members have begun to wonder if their leader doesn't suffer from a "day-after syndrome."
"Peretz has a pattern. The day after he wins a victory, he goes and does something stupid," said the MK. "I am starting to think he is self-destructive."
Some Labor officials said the recent mistake was caused by Peretz's ego and Labor euphoria following the election. Others, however, argue that Peretz has engaged in some sort of tactical tap-dance on the eve of coalition negotiations.
"His whole career has been in negotiations, I don't think we can just chalk it up to a 'whoops' on Peretz's part... We have to question what he was thinking the whole time, did he ever really mean to form a coalition?" said one Labor official close to Peretz. "Maybe there was more going on there. Maybe he never intended to form his own coalition and was just testing the waters. We'll only know in the end where he was going with all of this."
Regardless of where he may be going, many in Labor are concerned of where Peretz stands.
Once again, many in the party are whispering "novice" and voicing doubt over his leadership ability. People who voted for Labor are angered that the left-wing party would make overtures to the religious right. Similar to the days following his Rabin memorial speech, former Labor leaders have begun to reemerge in the party and challenge the chairman's decisions.
"A lot of the support that Peretz was given during the election, and the sense of optimism the day after the elections, has suddenly disappeared," said one Labor official. "He dug his way out of this before, and it now looks like he might have to do it again."
Several well-publicized appearances during the campaign showcased Peretz speaking in passable English, and made strides towards repairing his public image, said Labor officials. Now, they added, Peretz might have to come out of the coalition negotiations especially strong in order to reassure Labor members that he can lead the party.
"The bottom line is that there is no one else in Labor who could stand out and lead the party right now," said one Labor official. "There are people waiting in the wings whose time will one day come... but Peretz continues to have the charisma to lead."