'Wronged' Peretz gains strength

Labor ministers weigh opposing across-the-board cut to ministries' budgets.

olmert peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press [file])
olmert peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz hopes that reports about his imminent firing could end up increasing his chances of winning the May 28 Labor primary, sources close to the incumbent Labor chairman said on Saturday night. Peretz's advisers continued on Saturday to accuse Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates of being behind the reports. They accused Olmert of trying to bring down Peretz but expressed confidence that the reports would boomerang in Peretz's favor. "People are starting to say they are sick of all the political spins and garbage," a source close to Peretz said. "We are gaining in this race and we can still win." Peretz spent the weekend touring Hadera, Kfar Saba and Rosh Ha'ayin, and people who campaigned with him said they were surprised by the outpouring of support he received. Some 200 people packed the Na'amat Hall in Rosh Ha'ayin on a Friday afternoon despite the pouring rain for a rally that only a dozen were expected to attend. "The hall was full despite the timing and the rain and the fact that I was only told a day and a half ago that he was coming," said the event's organizer, Rosh Ha'ayin branch secretary Avinoam Tovim, who said he did not support any candidate in the race. "I was surprised that so many people came. Perhaps people feel that he has been wronged by all the reports about being fired. I saw how people suddenly wanted to join the party to support a man who is being attacked for no reason." A Dahaf Institute poll among Labor members eligible to vote in the primary published in Friday's Yediot Aharonot showed for the first time that Peretz had a chance to win. Until now, polls had shown Peretz's support in the single digits, but the Dahaf poll found that the race was close. MK Ami Ayalon led with 29 percent, followed by former prime minister Ehud Barak with 24%, MK Ophir Paz-Pines 22%, Peretz 18% and Danny Yatom 3%. Ayalon would beat Barak in a head to head race 52 to 41%, but a majority (45%) said Barak was the most fitting candidate to be defense minister, compared to Ayalon (43%) and Peretz (8%.) A source close to Olmert accused Peretz of being behind the report about his firing out of hope that it would help him in the race. Barak called Peretz over the weekend to deny reports that he leaked the story to help his own campaign. "I won't be part of any stinking maneuver against Peretz," Barak told Peretz adviser Dedi Suissa on Friday after an unsuccessful attempt to reach Peretz himself. Barak's campaign received a boost over the weekend when former minister Moshe Shahal, who supported Peretz in the last primary, endorsed Barak. In an effort to take advantage of the endorsements from Shahal and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Barak intends to expedite the announcement of his candidacy to perhaps as early as this week. Peretz, meanwhile, intends to unveil a new diplomatic plan this week to aid his campaign. A source in Peretz's office said after press time on Thursday night that if Olmert tried to fire Peretz, the prime minister's government could end up collapsing with him. "We are sure that Olmert knows that if you try to move a brick, the entire wall could come toppling down," the source said. The cabinet is set to vote on Sunday on an across-the-board cut to cabinet ministries' budgets to finance additional defense spending. Labor ministers said they were angry about the cut, and might vote against it. The cut will still pass easily, even without their support. •