A mere four days after his election, new Labor head Amir Peretz
spent the day fending off attacks from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
associates as well as from the ministers in his own party.
Peretz tried in vain to move up a meeting with Sharon set for Thursday to discuss finding an agreed date for elections. Sharon's associates reacted angrily to his threats to topple Sharon in the first reading of a bill to disperse the Knesset
on Wednesday if the meeting was not advanced.
"Amir Peretz stole the Labor leadership the same way that Moshe Feiglin
tried in the Likud
- by flooding the party with his men and taking it over from the outside," a Sharon associate said.
Noting Peretz's repeated calls to Sharon's office on Saturday, Sharon's aides said that "anyone who calls 22 times in an hour must have a mental problem."
Peretz's associates said he made the threat on Saturday night because he had heard that Sharon had decided not to meet with him at all this week. Peretz said that Sharon set the meeting for Thursday with the intention of canceling it and delaying it to next week.
According to Peretz's aides, Sharon's goals were to belittle Peretz, to prevent Labor from supporting the Knesset dispersal bills on Wednesday and to give Sharon more time to decide his political future. Sharon is awaiting the results of polls from his personal pollster, Kalman Geyer, before making a final decision about whether to remain in the Likud or start a new party.
Sources close to Peretz expressed surprise that Sharon was not able to make room on his schedule to meet with him after Sunday's cabinet meeting lasted only 15 minutes, instead of the customary four hours. The short session gave Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres
time to convene Labor ministers for a meeting in which they bashed Peretz.
Communications Minister Dalia Itzik
reportedly accused him of having positions that were too left-wing. Construction and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog
said Peretz was not giving the ministers enough time to complete essential projects in their ministries.
Names that top Labor officials have called Peretz in recent days include dictator, Napoleon and hothead.
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
, who met with Peretz on Sunday, defended him and urged Labor MKs not to repeat the same mistake that they made by undermining him when he was Labor leader.
Peretz also received praise from former MK Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, who made a point of not endorsing a candidate in the Labor race.
"Peretz's victory gives a chance for a change in Labor," she told Army Radio. "He has special charisma. He is a real leader who represents certain values. In all social struggles, Peretz was there. Peretz was always loyal to Rabin so he belonged in the rally."