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The Labor Party opened its election broadcasts to the press on Monday. Dozens of reporters and cameramen descended on the Givatayim studio but to the Labor team's disappointment none of them was very interested in the party's Top 10 team posing for the cameras in black suits. They all wanted to know if the ex-prime minister and party leader Ehud Barak would be joining in the picture. They tried to smile but the questions frustrated them.
Monday's headline that Barak would take part in the Labor campaign caught them unprepared. He hadn't coordinated his announcement with anyone; actually he hadn't announced anything. His sole remaining ally in the Knesset, Shalom Simhon, leaked to the press that Barak was planning to urge in all his public appearances to vote Labor. That was enough for a bored and distracted press to make a fuss of it.
What is Barak's game? Amir Peretz is about to lose and badly, and his colleagues will be out for his blood on March 29. The eternal Shimon Peres has finally left the party and the rest of the old leadership contenders, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Matan Vilna'i and Ephraim Sneh, were discredited by their poor showing in the primaries. That leaves the field open for a Barak comeback.
Peretz will find it very hard to bring the party into an Olmert coalition after all the mudslinging between the two over the last few weeks. Not so Barak, who is an old ally of the acting prime minister. Olmert was a main partner in the lobby that backed General Barak for the post of IDF chief of General Staff. But to be able to launch a leadership bid straight after the elections, he can't allow anyone to have cause to blame him for the defeat. Barak is setting up his alibi, he'll go through the motions, appear at a few rallies, go on television and secure his position.
Barak isn't the only spoiler waiting in the wings preparing alibis. Silvan Shalom announced Monday that he wouldn't oppose Binyamin Netanyahu's motion to transfer the selection of the Likud's Knesset list from the powerful central committee to party-wide primaries, but that wasn't exactly a resounding endorsement. Shalom's tactics are identical to Barak's. He's banking on Netanyahu resigning after the elections. His wife, Judy, said as much during the leadership primaries two months ago when she went around saying "let's bet that Bibi leaves the country after he loses."
Shalom won't shed a tear if Netanyahu loses Wednesday's vote in the center over the motion but he won't take the blame for a possible failure, especially as Netanyahu had polls proving that the move could significantly improve Likud's prospects.
Shalom's main pitch to the party on the day after elections will also be that he is the only remaining leader within the Likud capable of overcoming the enmity and cutting a deal with Olmert on power sharing, and perhaps even reuniting the two parties. Shalom and Barak both realize that effectively the elections are over and they are already jockeying for position and mustering their cohorts for tomorrow's political battles.