Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Wednesday that he wanted the next race for the Labor Party leadership to start immediately, giving his stamp of approval for a May primary that could end his leadership of Labor.
The party's bylaws require a new leadership primary within 14 months every time Labor's prime ministerial candidate loses a general election. Because of this, Labor has had four leadership races and two for temporary leader since former prime minister Ehud Barak stepped down following his electoral defeat in February 2001.
Before the war in Lebanon, the party began a process of changing its bylaws to delay the race. But since the war, several potential candidates have declared their support for holding the election as soon as possible, because they sensed Peretz's vulnerability.
Daring his potential challengers, Peretz came out for the first time in favor of a May primary in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in his office at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
"I am ready for a primary at any point and at any moment," Peretz said. "The party interests are less important now than those of the nation, but I have no problem with there being an election. My strategic assumption is that the sooner it is, the more likely it is for me to win."
Peretz's rivals said that his announcement was contrary to conventional wisdom. They said that he needed the primary to be held as late as possible to give him time to solidify his leadership and recover from the war in Lebanon.
"He doesn't have any choice," a source close to Barak said. "He doesn't have the power to get the election delayed. He is doing everyone a favor by shortening his tenure. Every day without him is a day that saves the party from more shame."
Labor's house committee will convene for the first time on October 26 to begin a process of setting a date for the primary. The party is expected to adopt the recommendation of its legal adviser, Eldad Yaniv, to hold a membership drive under the supervision of a judge ahead of the race.
The last Labor membership drive ended with a police investigation and an internal party inquiry headed by a retired judge that examined allegations of mass forgeries and fraud. Since then, Peretz has lost many of his supporters in the party, who came mainly from the Arab sector and its most dovish members.
"My strategy is to lead the country and implement Labor's worldview," Peretz said. "People will see there is no one more loyal than me to the party's outlook. People who say my being in the Defense Ministry proves otherwise should see that the reality is different."