Labor rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines announced his resignation from the Knesset in a press conference at the parliament on Thursday, dealing a potentially devastating blow to the internal party rebellion and giving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government a major boost.
Paz-Pines, whose resignation takes effect on Sunday at 4:30 pm, will be replaced in the Knesset by Cambridge- and Harvard-educated consultant Dr. Einat Wilf, who will be sworn in Monday and is not expected to rebel against Labor Chairman Ehud Barak.
His departure leaves the rebels with only three MKs out of 13, two short of the five needed to split the party. There had been hope among the rebels that MK Daniel Ben-Simon would give them the fifth vote when his ultimatum for the peace process to begin expired on February 8, but Paz-Pines's exit rendered the threat irrelevant.
Barak could barely hide his satisfaction in a speech he delivered to Labor's executive committee at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds three hours after Paz-Pines quit. He said he was pained by the departure but that Labor would endure.
"To all those who eulogize the party, I say the rumors of the party's death have been greatly exaggerated," Barak said, paraphrasing Mark Twain. "The party is stronger than all of its parts and its people and none of us is indispensable, including me."
Barak's ally, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, was blunter, saying that Paz-Pines's decision to quit was "preferable to his behavior over the past year in which he tried to force the opinion of the minority over the majority and harm the party."
The remaining three rebels - MKs Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz, and Yuli Tamir - released a statement saying that the need to revitalize the party had not diminished. Cabel refused to give up the fight, despite speculation that Tamir would soon follow Paz-Pines outside the Knesset and return to academia.
"Barak's behavior only gives me more energy to stay and fight," Cabel said. "We will continue struggling for the justice of our cause. My friends and I will not surrender."
Now that the rebellion has been quashed, the tension in the party is expected to shift to efforts to force Barak to advance Labor's leadership race, which is currently set for October 2012.
Barak's number two, Social Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, kicked off the race by blaming him for Paz-Pines's exit.
"It's up to our generation to determine whether the party has a chance to renew itself and stand on its feet again," Herzog said.
Barak's associates responded that Herzog shifting from Paz-Pines critic to defender illustrated that he lacked the traits needed to lead.
Paz-Pines did not inform Barak of his decision to quit before the press conference. He made a point of not mentioning Barak in his speech, but he slammed the party leader in the question-and-answer session.
"I am not here to fight Barak," Paz-Pines said. "My view on his leadership is known. He returned to politics just to be defense minister, which he is fit for, but as Labor chairman he led the party to a very bad state from which I doubt it can recover."
Paz-Pines said he did know what he would do after leaving the Knesset.
He said he would quit Labor but remain active politically. He lamented the party's joining the government, which he never accepted and which rendered him a powerless opposition MK inside the coalition.
"I unfortunately reached the point where I am not able to maintain my values and remain in the Knesset," Paz-Pines said. "When I had to choose between sticking to my Knesset seat and maintaining my values, I chose my values."
He said he left the party with a heavy heart because it did not do any soul-searching despite falling from 44 seats to 13 from 1992 to 2009 as it joined Likud-led coalitions.
"Remaining in the Knesset would perpetuate an illusion as if I could change the situation, when I cannot," Paz-Pines said. "If I had an alternative party in which I could continue serving my voters according to their path and the promises we made the voters, I would continue struggling from the Knesset, but that's unfortunately not the situation. I have no party, faction, or leader to represent."
Paz-Pines mocked the Labor ministers he left behind and wished Cabel, Tamir and Peretz well. He said he hoped his resignation would spark reconciliation in the party which could result in the three MKs returning to the party's loyal ranks, together in the opposition.
"They tried to call my allies and me rebels," Paz-Pines said. "I have never rebelled or sold out my ideology for political gain and the perks of power. The opposite is true. The party betrayed its ideology and its voters by joining a right-wing extremist government where it did not belong. If [rejecting that] is a rebellion, then I am a proud rebel."
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