Labor candidate says party under Amir Peretz is "staggering and dying."
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines unveiled his campaign for the party leadership on Tuesday in a press conference at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov under the slogan, "Israel Wants New Labor: Ophir Paz-Pines."
Paz-Pines's strategists said the phrase "New Labor" was chosen specifically because it reminds Labor members of the renaissance that British Prime Minister Tony Blair brought about in the British Labor Party.
"Blair took Labor from rock-bottom, rehabilitated it, rechristened it New Labor and took it back to power," Paz-Pines's campaign manager Shmuelik Cohen said. "Blair was young, successful and good-looking and Paz-Pines is the same."
The 45-year-old Paz-Pines said Labor under Defense Minister Amir Peretz's leadership was "staggering and dying." He accused Peretz of hypocrisy for running under a socioeconomic banner and then accepting the Defense portfolio and he called him a "crybaby" for his complaints about efforts to replace him as Labor leader.
"I don't want anyone in Labor to be ashamed of the party anymore," Paz-Pines said. "I want to build a new party with values and principles, that tells the truth and keeps its promises and that people can trust and rely on."
Denying rumors that he would eventually endorse one of the other candidates to ensure Peretz's defeat, Paz-Pines said he was in the race to win. He slammed the two front-runners in the race according to the polls, MK Ami Ayalon and former prime minister Ehud Barak.
"We have had enough experience with leaders who lack experience," Paz-Pines said of Ayalon. "Ami doesn't have the basic political experience necessary. We already endured that."
Paz-Pines called on Barak to not seek the Labor leadership and instead endorse him. Cohen unveiled polls indicating that he could beat Barak and that as head of Labor, Barak would send potential voters to Kadima.
"You can't force the public into accepting a leader," Paz-Pines said. "If the public doesn't want people, you can't make them. You can't choose a chairman the public doesn't want. Ehud Barak had his chance, he did his thing and the public judged his performance."
According to the poll, Paz-Pines would defeat Barak in a one-on-one race 40 to 27 percent and Ayalon would beat Barak 54 to 20 in a two-man race. Five percent more voters said they would consider voting Labor under Paz-Pines's leadership than said they would be less likely to vote Labor.
Barak, however, would distance 13% more voters than he would bring to the party.
Asked whether he would pull Labor out of the government as Labor leader, Paz-Pines said it would depend on whether it had a diplomatic agenda. He mocked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for boasting in a pre-Rosh Hashana interview that a prime minister did not need an agenda.
"A government with no agenda is a disaster," Paz-Pines said. "A prime minister needs an agenda and a coalition that could implement it. After I get elected, I would create a diplomatic plan for the government that [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman would not want to remain a part of."
Paz-Pines said that under his leadership, Labor would present itself as a clean party free of corruption and seek peace with Israel's neighbors using a regional approach to solving the Palestinian conflict.
"A government that will not seek peace, that rejects peace, is a government that Labor cannot afford to be a part of," Paz-Pines said. "Since Lieberman joined the government [after which Paz-Pines resigned as sciene minister], Labor has turned into a spare tire. I am getting goose bumps from all the party's zigzags."
The Labor Executive Committee convened on Tuesday night and decided to support the 2007 state budget in Wednesday's voting in the Knesset plenum. Peretz will vote in favor of the budget, which he voted against in the cabinet.
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