Peretz, Barak shake but don't speak [pg. 16]

Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz shook hands with his nemesis, former prime minister Ehud Barak, at a memorial for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Labor headquarters on Sunday, but they did not speak and have not set a date yet for a meeting. Peretz has resisted pressure from inside his party to name Barak to fill the vacancy in the cabinet created by the departure of former science, culture and sport minister Ophir Paz-Pines last week. He prefers to appoint MK Matan Vilna'i to the position because he poses less of a political threat. As a temporary measure, Peretz on Sunday shifted Paz-Pines's responsibilities to Education Minister Yuli Tamir and replaced Paz-Pines in the security cabinet with Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog. But senior Labor officials said Peretz cannot appoint a new minister without at least meeting with Barak. "I support adding Barak to the cabinet because it could help stabilize the party and delay adding further shock to the party," National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told The Jerusalem Post. "But everything depends on there being dialogue between Barak and Amir Peretz and at this point, there is no trust between them." The "further shock" that Ben-Eliezer referred to is the Labor leadership race set for May. Ben-Eliezer favors delaying the race, in part because the leading candidate in the polls is MK Ami Ayalon, who has been very critical of Ben-Eliezer. Ben-Eliezer, who is the strongman of the Labor central committee, has proposed a political deal whereby Peretz would accept the addition of Barak to the cabinet in return for delaying the Labor primary by a year. According to the deal, Barak would become a minister-without-portfolio, minister-without-portfolio Eitan Cabel would receive Paz-Pines's portfolio and Cabel would be replaced as Labor secretary-general by Danny Atar, who is close to both Peretz and Ben-Eliezer. Barak reportedly endorsed the deal in a meeting with Ben-Eliezer over the weekend. But sources close to Peretz said he wanted no part of it. Peretz lashed out at such political machinations in his speech at the memorial to Rabin. "If Rabin was around, he would say that you invest too much time in internal struggles and you display your best creativity in deal-making," Peretz said, scolding the Labor politicians sitting in the front of the room. Barak's associates responded by throwing the blame back at Peretz. They said that if he wanted Labor to rise above politics, all he had to do is swallow his pride and appoint Barak. "Peretz is the party chairman and he has to know what is good for the country," said former Labor MK Weizmann Shiri. "We are on hold and waiting for Peretz. I am sure Peretz doesn't want to fight with [Ben-Eliezer], so perhaps things will still work out."