(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor will remain in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government after the party's central committee decided on Friday to delay a vote on quitting the coalition.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz asked committee members assembled at Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama Hotel not to hold a "political vote" due to the rocket attacks on his home town of Sderot.
Instead, the panel will reconvene after a party leader is selected in the May 28 primary or a June 11 runoff race.
"Anything that happens today will be seen as disconnected from reality," Peretz said. "The public expects us to deal with the security issue and the people who live in the area around the Gaza Strip. So let's agree that this will be an open-ended discussion and the real decisions will be made in another meeting after a chairman is chosen."
Labor leadership candidate MK Ophir Paz-Pines attempted to persuade committee members to vote to leave the government now in an effort to force Kadima to replace Olmert due to his responsibility for the failures of the Second Lebanon War.
"Let's admit the truth," Paz-Pines said. "Whoever wants to delay the vote wants to remain in Olmert's government. If anyone in the world believes Israel can sweep Winograd under the rug and allow Olmert to continue to be prime minister, he should stand up and admit it."
Paz-Pines cited a poll published in Ma'ariv on Friday that found an overwhelming majority of Labor members favor either quitting the coalition or issuing an ultimatum insisting on Kadima's replacing the prime minister.
"The Olmert government has reached the end, and we have to be the ones that take the step that the public wants us to take," Paz-Pines said. "We can force the failed prime minister to go home. How much shame can we swallow: investigations, failures, survival at any price?"
Paz-Pines was backed up by demonstrators outside the event led by former deputy chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan.
The protesters included many employees of Israel Electric, who are upset with the Labor Party's National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's plans to privatize the company.
The Ma'ariv poll predicted that MK Ami Ayalon would win the May 28 Labor vote with 33.4 percent of the vote, followed by former prime minister Ehud Barak with 30.8%, Paz-Pines with 13.7%, Peretz with 11.3% and MK Danny Yatom with 3.5%. In a runoff race that would be held if no candidate received 40%, Ayalon would win 51%-37% over Barak.
A poll in Yediot Aharonot found that Barak would win a five man race with 34% to Ayalon's 32%, with Peretz at 14%, Paz at 11% and Yatom at 5%. In the second round, Ayalon would defeat Barak 47%-43%, according to the paper.
The central committee also endorsed Labor MK Colette Avital's candidacy for president.