It is nothing special when Labor Party leadership candidates focus their
attention on the Likud rather than attack each other.
All six candidates
in the September 12 primary are doing that at this early stage of the race,
devoting most of their speeches at nightly parlor meetings across the country to
attacks on the policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
only MK Amir Peretz is targeting the Likud for votes.
Not just in the
primary itself, where he is repeating the strategy that helped him defeat Shimon
Peres in 2005 – signing up thousands of traditional Likud voters in development
towns and poor neighborhoods – but also for the next general
Peretz is looking ahead to after the primary and telling Labor
members that only he can persuade Likudniks to vote for Labor against Netanyahu.
He says this is especially important at a time when what really determines who
forms the next government is not which party gets the most votes, but whether
the Right or Left bloc is bigger.
“The next election will be decided by
how we change the size of the bloc,” Peretz says in an interview at his small
office in the Knesset. “Other candidates are fighting Kadima, but I don’t intend
to declare war on them. I see them as a partner in replacing the Netanyahu-Barak
government. Taking votes away from them won’t change the political map. The only
way to do that is for me to take votes away from the Right and give them to the
The Likud’s strategists say they are not overly concerned about
Peretz and that they do not believe he can make a significant impact on the
blocs, the way they are concerned that a party led by former Shas leader Aryeh
Deri could or MK Shaul Mofaz might be able to if he unseats Tzipi Livni at the
helm of Kadima.
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To this, Peretz responds by stating categorically that he
stole no fewer than eight seats from the Likud in the 2006 election, winning in
places like Kiryat Shmona, where Labor had never won before. And to make his
point even clearer, he takes out his cellphone and calls Meir Segal of Yokneam,
who runs a branch of Aroma near Hadera.
Segal is a Likud central
committee member who was close to party MK Dan Meridor and to former Kadima
prime minister Ehud Olmert when he was in the Likud. He met Peretz on Tuesday at
a parlor meeting near Haifa and decided to leave Likud and join Labor in order
to vote for him.
“Netanyahu only cares about the rich, but Amir really
cares about everyone,” Segal says. “He is pure, like the politicians used to be
during the days of Menachem Begin. People are thirsty for change. I’m going to
go from house to house and move people over from Likud to Labor.”
whether he was concerned about the dovish views of Peretz, who already endorsed
a Palestinian state in 1984 and is a proud advocate for J Street, Segal says he
no longer sees a major difference between the Right and Left and that since he
announced his decision on his Facebook page, a lot of people have been telling
him the same.
Many Likudniks Peretz has met are not as bold as Segal. One
head of a northern Likud branch promised Peretz that he would leave Likud for
Labor if Peretz won the race. When Peretz responded that he couldn’t win unless
people like him joined before the primary, he responded that he wasn’t willing
to take the risk that one of the other candidates would win.
drilling for oil,” Peretz says. “I can bring young Likud people who are
sick of Netanyahu and his scare tactics. These people can change the face
Peretz says his own outlook has never changed, from his
emphasis on socioeconomic issues like helping workers and seniors to his views
about the peace process. He is proud that he appointed the country’s first Arab
minister, Ghaleb Majadle, and he is angry at Netanyahu for insisting on the
Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state when no such demand was made
by Begin in making peace with Egypt.
After listening to Netanyahu’s
speech at the Knesset on Wednesday, Peretz says he believes the prime minister
is doing everything possible to avoid advancing the peace process. That’s why he
calls him “not a peace refusenik, but an anti-peace schemer.”
“Why do we
need Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] to tell us who we
are?” Peretz asks. “Netanyahu is doing this to add another obstacle to the peace
He wants to make it look like he is pursuing peace, when he is
really running away from it.”
Yet Peretz reserves his fiercest criticism
for Ehud Barak, his former nemesis in Labor, who unseated him in the 2007 Labor
primary and then unceremoniously fired him from the Defense Ministry by
“Barak inflicts more damage to the peace process than anyone else,”
Peretz says. “Without Barak, Bibi would be able to tell the right-wing parties
in his coalition to leave him space to prevent him from falling, but he hasn’t
had to do anything because he has had Barak as a left-wing fig leaf. History
proves that Begin and Netanyahu made peace deals with right-wing governments
while the Left was putting on pressure from the opposition.”
bashes the Israeli Barak, he has nothing but kind words for the Barack of the
United States, who he believes is a treasure for Israel. He praises the US
president for opposing the Goldstone Report, vetoing the UN resolution on
settlements, and pursuing a settlement freeze.
“The demand not to build
during talks is legitimate, because the whole goal is to get to a deal done on
borders and then both sides will know where they can and can’t build and can
continue talking about the other issues,” he says. “Everyone believes the
borders will be drawn based on where they were before 1967 except Bibi and
Lieberman. I’d bet if Bibi had known that without his [initial] objection to
extending the settlement freeze for three months, there wouldn’t be a
Hamas-Fatah deal and the Palestinians wouldn’t be able to run to the UN, he
wouldn’t have objected.”
Peretz actually may have inadvertently played a
part in bringing Hamas and Fatah together. Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon was quoted
as saying that the success of the Iron Dome missile defense system that Peretz
initiated as defense minister had persuaded Hamas to seek another strategy
instead of rocket attacks. This makes Peretz – a resident of Sderot – very
“I said Iron Dome would have an impact on the peace process,” he
“Hezbollah should also wake up and decide to go in a different
direction because of Iron Dome. Until a year ago, Barak still opposed expanding
Iron Dome, and now he allocated funding to expand it to the entire country
within four years.”
Thanks to Iron Dome and to the passage of time,
Peretz hears fewer complaints these days about the mistake he readily admits
making in accepting the Defense portfolio in Olmert’s government in 2006, and
his role in the subsequent Second Lebanon War, which the Winograd Commission
dubbed a failure.
If elected, Peretz would insist on taking the Welfare
and Social Services portfolio. His plan on welfare issues is called “the
Socioeconomic Iron Dome.”
WHEN IT comes to politics, Peretz doesn’t need
a missile shield to protect himself. He was the only one of the major candidates
in the Labor race to announce his candidacy with a press conference. He called
the decisions by MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Isaac Herzog and former Labor
chairman Amram Mitzna to skip the traditional opening campaign press conference
“shameful,” and accused them of being afraid of facing tough
Peretz also criticizes his former supporter Yacimovich of
lacking loyalty and integrity and taking credit for bills he initiated. He
accuses Herzog of missing opportunities to prove his leadership when he was
reluctant to take the Welfare and Social Services portfolio and when he opposed
a hike in the minimum wage due to coalition discipline.
“I told him that
if he got fired, he should send Bibi flowers, because he would make him the next
Labor leader,” Peretz says.
Peretz forgave Herzog for comments attributed
to him in Haaretz, in which he allegedly called Peretz “too Moroccan” to be
elected in 2006. The two had a meeting in which Herzog denied making the comment
“I could have not accepted the apology as some of my
advisers were telling me,” he says. “But I accepted it for the good of the
public rather than letting a wound fester. His explanation satisfied me, but I
don’t have an X-ray to examine his mind.”
For Mitzna, Peretz has praise.
He likes his modesty and that his tour of duty in Yeroham made development towns
attractive in the eyes of the public.
The polls show Mitzna winning twice
as many seats as Peretz, but Peretz has burned pollsters before.
succeed, he must persuade Labor members that what really matters is not how many
seats Labor would get, but the mandates the Left would win in a general
“Mitzna can take seats away from Kadima, but only I can help
the Left come back to power,” he asserts
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