Peretz: Labor is united and strong

"Our task only began, today we started our work for the country."

"We did it together, this entire team. Tonight, Labor comes out united and strong," Amir Peretz told a crowd of supporters at the Labor party headquarters in Tel Aviv late Tuesday night. As early results streamed into the party's headquarters in the Hatikva neighborhood, activists cheered and threw confetti as they promised that the final results would be much higher than the 20-22 mandates predicted in early reports. While that figure fell short of the 30-mandate mark set by hopeful party activists earlier in the day, the distance between Labor and Kadima, (which was polled at 29-31 mandates), appeared surmountable to candidates gathered before the television screens. "Not a single person here hesitated despite attempts to take the wind out of the sails of the social revolution," Peretz said. "We walked a long way, in recent months it was tough, there were moments that some of us thought that we would be overcome but I am happy to say that Labor is a party with deep roots, a party that is capable of leading the state. "Today, we witnessed our seeds began to bear fruit. I want you to know, our task only began, today we started our work for the country," he added. According to MK Danny Yatom, "The significance of these results is that they make Kadima and Labor the two major parties to be contended with. It makes us a major player... These results are a direct compliment to Peretz, and the way he managed our campaign even when people were trying to convince him to act differently. Peretz led us to success." Others were quick to point out that if Labor chose to make a move to form its own coalition, other parties might find Peretz a far more attractive coalition partner than Kadima candidate Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "Last week, Olmert was pompous, he handed out the ministries as if they were candy," said one Labor official. "What does that leave for other parties if they join Olmert's coalition? They know in Labor they might have more room to grow and find themselves in ministerial positions." For many, the true revolution was not in Labor's success among the voters, but in where those voters came from. "We have seen a drastic shift in the map of constituents in Israel," said MK Shalom Simhon. "Areas that have never voted Labor are voting nearly unanimously for Peretz, according to some early results." Simhon, who represents small towns on the Labor list, said that many developing towns in the south who have historically voted Labor were coming out in droves to support Peretz. "For years people have been saying that these voters should be casting their ballots to Labor, but instead they were stuck in the Likud fantasy," said one Labor party spokesman. "These voters, from industrial towns in the south, the blue collar core of Israel, have finally come to where they should have always been - Labor." MK Eitan Cabel, the Labor faction chairman, said that Peretz's success in bringing over the new voting group assured his position as party chairman. "No one should believe or give any countenance to the talk of replacing Peretz now,"said MK Colette Avital. "He's the party hero." The support of Peretz seemed absolute, as candidates rushed to praise the socioeconomic campaign that Peretz had brought to Labor. "What is important is that Labor has set the agenda," said Ami Ayalon, the number six on the party list. "There is a feeling that these numbers show a real victory, humanitarian issues will be at the forefront of the next Knesset." While Peretz did not arrive at the headquarters to hear the early results, numerous MKs present hinted that the Chairman was excited about the potential of the predictions. "If the space between us and Kadima is so small, there are many options on the table," said one Labor official. "The coalition talks will be long and difficult because we know we will be major players now. Maybe even the most major players."