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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Even in a Labor race where no one has won yet, someone had to proclaim victory.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak and MK Ami Ayalon, who advanced to a June 12 runoff, still have two weeks of hard work ahead of them. They made a point of remaining silent on Tuesday, and Barak even barred his closest supporters from giving interviews.
Amir Peretz, who finished a distant third - thousands of votes behind the two top finishers - will no longer be Labor chairman in two weeks; he will have to leave the Defense Ministry shortly thereafter. Just 14 months after one in every six Israelis voted for him for prime minister, everything is crashing down around him.
And yet Peretz acted yesterday as if he were the big winner. He gave an emotional victory speech from a crowded, smoke-filled balcony outside his Rishon Lezion campaign headquarters to adoring activists who chanted, "We will not concede, we will not break."
"We accomplished the unbelievable yesterday," Peretz told the cheering crowd.
"I feel today that we have to thank the people who initiated the primary, which gave us a chance to prove the strength of our camp.
"We will continue being part of our camp until we lead Israel."
For someone in dire straits, Peretz sounded awfully upbeat on Tuesday.
A Peretz adviser explained that the reason for his chipper mood was that he had learned how to lose from the expert on the subject - Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
The adviser said that Peres always wore a big smile after a loss. He said that deep inside, every loss hurt him terribly, but on the outside, he always cheered and reassured his campaign staff and everyone around him.
When Peres lost the presidency to Moshe Katsav in 2000, a reporter who covered the election admitted that she had dreaded to approach him afterward because she pitied him so much. She said that Peres later called her and asked for an opportunity to explain why the loss was really a victory.
Peretz and his associates gave two reasons why his defeat was really a win: He became a kingmaker who will likely decide the victor of the runoff race, and he succeeded in building a large "socioeconomic camp" in the party that will be a major player for years to come.
Officials close to both Barak and Ayalon questioned whether kingmaker Peretz would end up crowning the winner or the loser. They said polls had shown that an endorsement from Peretz could scare away more Labor voters than it would bring.
And as for the "socioeconomic camp," Peretz's rivals couldn't help but remember his real victory speech when he became Labor leader in November 2005 in which he shouted that "there are no camps in Labor."
Asked to explain his change of heart, Peretz's spokeswoman said: "That's the way it is in politics. When you win, there are no camps. When you lose, it's the camp that won."