Defense minister's predecessor says party should not join any government; Oron faces coup in Meretz.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Just four days after party chairman Ehud Barak led Labor to a new nadir of 13 mandates, his predecessor, MK Amir Peretz, called on him to quit and vowed to force him out if he refused to go.
The three candidates behind Barak on the Labor list also see themselves as his possible replacement when a leadership primary is held sometime in the next 14 months, as required by the party's bylaws.
But unlike Peretz, Isaac Herzog, Ophir Paz-Pines and Avishay Braverman have not publicly called for Barak's departure.
"When I led the party in 2006, if I would have gotten 13 seats, I would have quit immediately," Peretz told The Jerusalem Post. "We need to take two steps: Set a timetable for choosing a chairman and form an interim leadership team to start the process of rehabilitating the party. Barak certainly cannot do that alone."
Labor won 19 Knesset seats in the 2006 election.
Peretz said Labor's institutions should be convened as soon as possible to decide that Labor would not join any new government, even if it were led by Kadima.
If Barak wanted to remain defense minister, he could quit the Knesset and the party, and get appointed to the job by the Likud, Peretz said.
"Barak attempted in the campaign to sell Labor as a party led by a defense minister, and it didn't work," Peretz said. "His decision to overthrow Olmert boomeranged against us. It sent home a Knesset with 70 MKs from the peace camp, brought the Left to its lowest point ever and allowed a student of Kahane [the National Union's Michael Ben-Ari] to enter the Knesset."
Peretz had been careful during Labor's campaign to avoid saying what he thought about Barak. He even campaigned individually in development towns on Labor's behalf and spoke about giving Barak another chance.
Barak's associates declined to respond to Peretz, but they in principle rejected all talk of replacing the party chairman.
They also ruled out the possibility of Barak becoming defense minister in a Likud-led government, which would follow the precedent of Moshe Dayan in the government of Menachem Begin.
"Ehud will continue in his job as Labor chairman and will return the party to its place at the leadership of the country," a Barak associate said.
Meanwhile, Meretz head Haim Oron will face a challenge to his leadership at Sunday's meeting of his party's executive when supporters of outgoing MK Zehava Gal-On will bring him a petition signed by more than 300 Meretz members calling for him to resign to allow Gal-On to enter the next Knesset.
The Meretz members are upset at Oron for refusing to quit after leading the party to only three seats in Tuesday's election.
They noted that Yossi Sarid resigned as chairman after the 2003 elections for what he considered a poor showing for the party under his leadership, when Meretz won only six seats.
The petition quotes Oron's pledge to take responsibility for his move to merge Meretz with a new leftist movement during the election campaign and urges him to keep his promise.
Gal-On voluntarily moved from the third slot on the list to allow the New Movement's representative, journalist Nitzan Horowitz, to be placed third.
Asked whether Horowitz also should quit, a spokesman for the Meretz members who signed the petition said the founders of the New Movement should have told Horowitz that allowing Gal-On to enter the Knesset was "the gentlemanly thing to do," but that decision was "between Horowitz and his conscience."
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