Ayalon declares he is quitting politics

Departure after just one Knesset term seals a downfall more rapid than his meteoric rise.

ami ayalon 248 88  (photo credit: AP [file])
ami ayalon 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon, who until a year ago was considered a serious candidate for prime minister, resigned from the cabinet on Sunday following disputes with Labor and the Meimad Party. His departure following just one term in the Knesset completes his rapid downfall, which was even faster than his meteoric rise. Ayalon came close to defeating Ehud Barak for the Labor leadership in the June 2007 leadership race. He forced a run-off against Barak and won a majority of Jewish voters, but he lost, due in part to forgeries in the Arab sector that were investigated by police. The state prosecutor's office is expected to issue indictments soon, after police recommended last week that charges be filed. At Barak's insistence, Ayalon joined the cabinet as a minister-without-portfolio, a position he has held for 15 months. But Ayalon disagreed with Barak's handling of the party and announced last month that he had decided to quit the party. Ayalon negotiated with Hatnua Hahadasha (The New Movement), the party being formed together with Meretz on the Left, but talks broke down amid charges from the new party that Ayalon had asked for too much. Instead, Ayalon joined Rabbi Michael Melchior's dovish, religious-Zionist Meimad party. Melchior agree to give Ayalon his top slot on the list and to build a new list together with other figures outside the party. But Ayalon decided over the weekend to leave Meimad because no big names had agreed to join the party. While Ayalon has not ruled out running with Meretz and Hatnua Hahadasha, he is almost certain to quit politics and return to heading the People's Voice campaign, a grassroots effort to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to seek peace. Ayalon and Melchior released a joint statement saying that "the current political situation and the short time" did not allow them to run together. At the insistence of Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel, Ayalon will quit the cabinet on Sunday. Cabel demanded that Ayalon return the portfolio to Labor, because he left the party. Barak is not expected to appoint anyone to replace Ayalon in the cabinet, to save taxpayers' money and avoid a fight between the candidates for such a post, MKs Amir Peretz, Ophir Paz-Pines and Avishay Braverman.