Labor reevaluating its approach for fear of coming in third place

Some polls show Labor dropping to 13-14 mandates; party feels harmed by security issues coming to forefront.

Talk of a change in party strategy dominated closed-door meetings Thursday, as Labor Party officials continued to grow nervous over the party's showing in the polls. "There is a major divide in the party over how to proceed," said one candidate. "We don't blame Peretz. Realistically, though, we are scared over becoming the third-place party." Following the Jericho raid, some polls saw Labor drop to 13-14 mandates while the Likud rose to 16, taking second place after Kadima. Although Labor spokesmen attributed the drop to public reaction to the raid, party members expressed concern that if security issues continue to dominate news coverage leading up to the March 28 election, Labor would continue to drop in the polls. As Labor candidates geared up for their final week of campaigning, many were already using subtle talk of "strong coalition partners" in place of the party's past boasts of leading the next government. `'We are not going to drastically, officially change our approach," said one candidate. "We don't want constituents to feel as though we don't support Amir [Peretz]." Unofficially, however candidates said they could sway more votes by promoting themselves as a tempering presence in the 17th Knesset, than as contenders for the Prime Minister's Office. Peretz, meanwhile, continued to wave off the doubts surrounding his leadership and promote himself as the best candidate for prime minister. He was to meet with American and British officials Friday in a continued effort to present himself as a diplomatic world figure, said party officials. "There is an ongoing smear campaign against Amir as a backwards, unworldly person," said a Labor spokesman. "We are consistently showing that he is capable of leading Israel on a diplomatic stage." Meanwhile, Peretz continued to dismiss rumors that he would form a coalition with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu or Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. "There's a huge economic and social gap between us, and it's only getting wider," said Peretz. "There is no chance for a coalition between me and Lieberman or Netanyahu."