Peretz set to back Ayalon as Labor losers snub Barak

Deal discussed in which Peretz gives Ayalon the Defense Ministry and receives a socioeconomic portfolio instead.

ami ayalon stern 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ami ayalon stern 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former prime minister Ehud Barak succeeded in winning the most votes in Monday's Labor primary, but he has apparently failed in his attempt to attract the support of the candidates who lost the race. Barak admitted as much when he released a statement on Thursday calling upon Defense Minister Amir Peretz and MK s Ophir Paz-Pines and Danny Yatom to allow their supporters to vote according to their consciences in the June 12 runoff race instead of endorsing his challenger, MK Ami Ayalon. "I respect your decision not to endorse me," Barak said in the statement. "I call upon you to let your people decide for themselves whom to support in the second round." Barak made the statement following a meeting with Paz-Pines and a full day of unsuccessful attempts by associates of Barak and Peretz to organize a meeting - or at least a conversation - between the two men. Sources close to Peretz said Barak's associates tried "desperately" to organize the meeting after polls found that Peretz's support would give Ayalon a significant advantage over the former prime minister. Ayalon and Peretz met for the second time in two days on Thursday night at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. In the meeting, which ended after press time, Peretz and Ayalon were expected to negotiate a deal for the former to endorse the latter in return for a series of commitments. The endorsement is expected to take place Sunday in a rally of Peretz's supporters at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters. The deal is expected to include Peretz giving Ayalon the Defense Ministry and receiving a socioeconomic portfolio instead. Peretz's supporters will be able to keep their jobs, including Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle and Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. To ease Ayalon's departure from his commitment to remove Labor from a government led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Labor central committee will be empowered to decide the matter. In an effort to attract some of the Peretz camp, Barak's close confidant, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, met with Majadle Thursday and asked for his support in attracting Israeli Arab voters to Barak. But Peretz's people said after the meeting that his camp remained united in support of whomever Peretz endorses. Peretz's associates scoffed at Barak's statement to the Labor candidates, calling it "nonsense" and noting that he did not give his supporters freedom to vote their conscience in the first round of the race. But a source close to Barak said it was "undemocratic" for losing candidates to try to interfere with the votes of Labor members. Paz-Pines met separately with Ayalon and Barak at his Ra'anana home on Thursday and told them his main criterion for deciding which candidate to support would be whether they would take action to topple Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and establish a coalition led by someone else. Although Paz-Pines had intended to endorse a candidate in the run-off, his associates said he would back neither candidate if they did not accept that condition. Yatom has spoken to both Ayalon and Barak since Monday's race. He said he had not decided whether to endorse a candidate and he would make an announcement on Sunday. An Israel Radio poll of Labor members broadcast Thursday found that Ayalon is leading Barak, 42 to 38 percent. The poll found that if Peretz endorsed Ayalon, his lead would increase substantially and he would beat Barak 59% to 30%. A Dahaf Institute poll published Wednesday in Yediot Aharonot found that the race was much closer, with Ayalon beating Barak by just 2%.