(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A victory by incumbent Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres in the November 9 leadership race would be a dream come true for the Likud, Peresâ€™s challenger, Science Minister Matan Vilnaâ€™i said at a press conference in Laborâ€™s Tel Aviv headquarters Monday.
Vilnaâ€™iâ€™s advisers said polls indicated that Vilnaâ€™iâ€™s best chance would be to prevent Peres from obtaining the 40 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a two-man run-off. They said Vilnaâ€™i would try to enliven the Labor race to prevent Peres and Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz from quietly reaching a second round of voting.
â€œYou are probably saying, â€˜Who cares about this Labor election that has gone on for more than a year when it is clear that Peres will win this race and lose the general election,â€™â€ Vilnaâ€™i said. â€œBut it is important because Labor is still the only alternative to the Likud.â€
Vilnaâ€™i unveiled a new negative campaign against Peres and Peretz. He sent Labor members a flyer warning that Peres would bring a guaranteed loss in the general election and Labor under Peretz would become a small niche party.
â€œCan anyone put their hand on their heart and honestly say that they believe Peres will be prime minister in four years?â€ Vilnaâ€™i said. â€œIs there any difference between this election and the other five when we gave him a chance to lead the party? Peres is a shadow that hovers over Labor and doesnâ€™t let the party blossom and move on.â€
Vilnaâ€™i accused Peres of â€œsuddenly discovering that there are poor people in Israel.â€ He said neither Peres nor Peretz, in their many years in leadership positions, succeeded in solving the poverty problem.
â€œA win for Amir Peretz is the wet dream of Shinui,â€ Vilnaâ€™i said. â€œNo one really believes that the public can support him.â€
Vilnaâ€™iâ€™s campaign manager, Etai Ben-Horin, said Vilnaâ€™i would tell Labor members he was the only candidate who could build a large centrist party and remind them that Labor had only won elections when it appealed to centrist voters.
But when asked whether he believed the Oslo process was a mistake, a key question for centrist voters, Vilnaâ€™i said no.
â€œOslo was not a mistake, even though there were blunders along the way as there are in any process,â€ he said. â€œWithout Oslo, there wouldnâ€™t be disengagement and centrist voters understand this.â€
Asked how long Labor should remain in Prime Minister Ariel Sharonâ€™s coalition, Vilnaâ€™i said: â€œI think the elections will be on time in November 2006 but, unlike Peres, I donâ€™t think we have an obligation to be in the government until then.â€