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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz's attempt to form a "social bloc" coalition was widely discredited Monday, but the party appeared to have maintained a strong negotiating position, several senior Labor officials said.
Labor saw itself as a vital coalition partner for Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, they said, and was considering several unofficial Kadima proposals.
While it appeared that the much-sought-after Finance Ministry would remain out of Labor's reach, officials said Peretz might take the Defense Ministry for himself and the Education Ministry for MK Yuli Tamir. Labor would also take several other posts, for example the Justice Ministry for Isaac Herzog and the Interior or Housing ministries, they said.
"We are in the same place we were the day after the elections," an MK close to Peretz said. "Only now there is more internal discontent with Peretz."
Another Labor MK said that if Peretz had not angered Olmert with the social bloc scheme, the party might have been in a better position to try for the Treasury.
"Now we'll never know if we could have gotten it," he said. "A lot of people say it was always out of reach and Defense and Education were all we were ever going to get."
In meetings last week, Peretz called the offer of the Defense Ministry "a noose on which I'll hang myself." On Monday, however, his aides confirmed that he had met with several ministry officials while he thought the offer over.
"He is thinking about the next election," a Labor official said. "All those accusations that he was 'weak on defense' could be resolved if he plays it right."
Meanwhile, criticism of Peretz's negotiating tactics grew as several party members said he was an "egomaniac."
"It is a betrayal of our voters," said MK Matan Vilna'i. "People didn't vote for us so that we could lead a right-wing, haredi government."
Peretz, however, insisted that he had never intended to form a coalition with the Right, although he "could have put one together in minutes." "I will not form an unnatural government," he said.
Labor officials close to Peretz, including incoming-MK Shelly Yacimovich, Tamir and MK Ephraim Sneh, also denied that Peretz was holding negotiations with right-wing parties.
The social bloc that Peretz was supposedly composing would have included parties such as Meretz, National Union-National Religious Party, the Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Gil Pensioners Party. By Monday, however, Labor was the only party to recommend to President Moshe Katsav that Peretz form the next government.
"Peretz's plan to become prime minister may have fallen apart," said a senior Labor official. "But if he doesn't lose too much negotiating ground to Kadima because of it... he may avoid being ousted from the party."
Also on Monday, Labor officials expressed optimism that the party would regain its 20th seat because of a possible miscount in Herzliya that allegedly gave Labor votes to United Torah Judaism.