Parties scrambling after Peretz victory

Political parties are hastily reassessing their platforms in the wake of Amir Peretz's surprising win, and at the heart of their new agendas are the social issues that lay at the core of Peretz's victory. "Everyone knew early elections were coming, but now we think they will be even earlier," said a spokesman for the National Union party. "Everyone is gearing up and evaluating their strategy." In his victory speech Thursday, Peretz reiterated his pledge to take the Labor Party out of Sharon's coalition, leaving the government without a majority. MKs Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) and Yitzhak Levy (National Union) have also announced that they will present bills next week calling for the dissolution of the Knesset and early elections. Although those calls have been sounded in the past, Peretz's victory gives them new legitimacy and urgency, said a Shas Party spokesman, noting derisively that several Labor MKs whispered Thursday that Shas, which has traditionally carried a strong social agenda, would not be able to hold its own against Peretz's new Labor Party. "Of all the parties who immediately responded to Peretz's victory, we were the only ones to offer immediate congratulations. We were not threatened," he insisted. "Peretz has to carry the whole Labor party agenda, with all of its secular inclusions, that our voters just won't support," he said, continuing "Our voters know that Amir Peretz stands for leftist positions, so there is no overlap." He added that Shas would have felt more jeopardized if Peretz had formed his own party, where he could define the social agenda. Other parties, however, are scrambling to interest more voters and broaden their agendas, such as the National Union and the NRP, which are said to be working on a plan to run on a joint ticket in the next election. "We are very interested in running with the National Religious Party and are stepping up meetings with them to work out how we will merge our interests," said a spokesman for National Union. "We are a party that has always been connected to the Israeli people, on social issues and otherwise." In the meantime, other parties have called emergency meetings to evaluate how they will confront the Peretz victory. Both Meretz-Yahad and Shinui called meetings this weekend. A Shinui spokeswoman said that Labor's new image was a front for something it could not truly represent. "Labor says that it is the social party, but it is fighting on the same platform as Likud and Shas," she said, adding, "Their whole liberal, progressive platform is gone and we, Shinui, now carry that platform." "Peretz's victory puts Labor at the extreme left diplomatically, socially, and economically on the Israeli political map," said opposition leader Yosef Lapid (Shinui). "Only Shinui can represent the middle class." MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) congratulated Peretz on his victory and expressed her hope that Meretz and Labor would work together towards early Knesset elections. Meanwhile the ruling Likud party seemed unperturbed by Peretz's victory. "Labor elected a leader with no diplomatic experience and complicated opinions to be its candidate for PM," said MK and Coalition whip Gidon Saar. "We will win the election easily. He is talented but irresponsible diplomatically and socio-economically. He can't lead the country. He is a comfortable competitor."