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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amir Peretz has reached his moment of truth with the Labor Party much sooner than expected. During the last couple of months of the election campaign, it seemed that Peretz had taken firm control of the party and that he had gained, if not the affection of the party leadership, at least their begrudging respect.
All that seems to have evaporated in just a matter of days and at least a third of the Knesset faction is up in arms and threatening to go as far as splitting with the party.
The MKs involved in the insurrection against Peretz have shied away from the term "rebels," all the much too reminiscent of what happened in the Likud not too long ago. They are trying to be convincing that this is not a personal vendetta, but a legitimate argument over Labor's direction. However, if the interviews given this weekend by the two emerging leaders of the rebel faction, Matan Vilna'i and Ami Ayalon, are any indication, then the Labor rift is as personal as it can get.
"Delusions of grandeur" was Vilnai's description of the party leader's condition and Ayalon attacked the list of ministers Peretz is asking the Central Committee to authorize Sunday as based on "political considerations, not logic."
Peretz's main problem is that the new opposition within the party is now being led not only by his old rivals, Vilna'i and Danny Yatom, but also by two of the most prominent "stars" to have joined Labor recently, Ayalon and Avishay Braverman.
Peretz loyalists are blaming those four along with other rebels for acting simply out of disappointment at not being tipped for cabinet posts. That's politics. A party leader should be capable of imposing his will on the rest of the hierarchy, and his ultimate test is to push through the cabinet list of his choice.
Despite a poor showing in the elections, and no matter what Peretz's circle says, 19 MKs was a let-down. He has been acting confident ever since and hasn't even owned up to the disastrous attempt to build a coalition with the Right. Now he claims substantial gains in the coalition agreement with Kadima. Despite seven ministers being considerable for such a small party, he failed in his main objective to get the Finance Ministry. Besides the Defense and Education posts, he received little else of significance.
If Peretz loses in Sunday's vote over the method for appointing the ministers, the humiliation will likely increase, since the list voted by the committee will almost definitely not resemble the one he has drawn up. Even if he wins the vote, Peretz is beginning the new government's term at a clear disadvantage.
Instead of spending every possible moment learning the intricacies of his new Defense Ministry, he will need to dedicate much of his time to plot his survival within the party. His rivals, which include most of Labor's senior military figures, ex-generals Vilna'i, Ayalon and Yatom, do not improve his credentials upon taking the controversial Defense portfolio.
According to Labor's regulations, as a party leader who failed to win an election, he would have had to face reelection anyway in a year or so. Peretz's plan was to spend the next year tightening his grip on the party's apparatus and ensuring that the next inner elections would be a mere formality. Now it's clear that he's going to have his work cut out for him.â€¢