Labor to keep faith with Barak

Consensus comes despite polls indicating that the party will fall to new low in next general election.

barak 224.88 ap (photo credit: )
barak 224.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Labor will almost certainly keep Ehud Barak as its leader until after the next general election, despite polls indicating that the party will fall to a new low, a consensus of Labor officials said Thursday. The top ministers and MKs in Labor have been growing more and more frustrated with Barak, especially after the party was harmed by reports of Barak putting his luxury apartment on the market for NIS 40 million and his wife Nili Priell forming a company that was seen as a front for illegal fundraising for his campaign. The final straw for some high-ranking Labor politicians was a poll taken by the party's American adviser, Stanley Greenberg, which found that Labor could win only eight seats in a race against Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud and Kadima led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The poll found that Labor could fall from the second to the fifth-largest party. The poll caused some Labor politicians, who had in the past refrained from any underhanded activity against Barak, to begin cooperating with low-level initiatives inside the party to replace him. Barak's attacks on Livni also upset many Labor ministers, including Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon, who nearly beat Barak in last year's leadership race. Ayalon vigorously denied reports that he was in favor of holding another party primary ahead of the next general election, despite a poll suggesting that he could bring Labor more mandates than Barak. Other Labor politicians who were implicated in efforts to replace Barak by a report in Ma'ariv on Thursday rushed to deny involvement and declare their allegiance to him. "We don't need additional primaries," Ayalon said. "When you have a ship that is caught in a storm, it is not the right time to fight over who gets to be the captain." National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer denied reports that his meeting with former Labor chairman Amir Peretz on Thursday was part of a conspiracy developing against Barak. He said the meeting with Peretz was scheduled two months ago, and claimed that Barak's name was not even mentioned in the meeting. "Barak is the most talented candidate we can run and we have to unite behind him," Ben-Eliezer said. "The reports about attempts to topple Barak have no basis in reality. They are intended to harm the party and its leader." Even Peretz, who spoke openly about initiating a new Labor race two months ago was careful to keep a low profile on Thursday. In closed conversations, Barak said the reports boosted him politically, because they forced all the party's leaders to rally around him. He said that any attempts to overthrow him had only attracted the support of "third tier people in the party." But one Labor activist said that the process of replacing Barak had begun and expressed confidence that it would only continue to gain support, even if it was too soon for the process to become more public. Meanwhile in Kadima, leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz took an unusual step of releasing a statement disputing the results of a poll. Normally, politicians publicly pretend that they don't care about polls. Mofaz questioned a Teleseker poll published in Ma'ariv that predicted that Livni would beat him by a wide margin, 49 to 28 percent. His campaign said the poll of 400 people had too small a sample and that polls showing a five percent difference between him and Livni were more accurate. The transportation minister criticized Livni for allowing the fate of Palestinians who consider themselves refugees to be negotiated in her talks with Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas revealed on Thursday that the issue was being negotiated. "I call upon all the candidates to declare openly and clearly that they will not accept the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel," Mofaz said.