Labor Stalwart Ophir Pines-Paz Leaves Knesset, Party and Politics

Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz yesterday announced that he was quitting parliament, politics and his party, which he said had abandoned its values over the past 15 years.

"I feel I cannot reconcile my values and integrity with my position in the Knesset," Pines-Paz told a news conference. He also complained that he had been forced to join a government he wanted no part of, because all it cared about was its own survival.

The veteran MK's resignation took Labor's rebels by surprise. The rebels, of whom Pines-Paz was one, were notified of his resignation only a short time before he made the announcement.

The resignation dashes the rebels' hopes of splitting from Labor to form a separate faction, a move requiring at least a third of the party's MKs.

Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak said in response to Pines-Paz's announcement, "I respect and appreciate Ophir and his contribution, and would prefer to see him stay here with us."

"Everyone is replaceable, even myself," Barak added.

Pines-Paz had Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin sign his resignation letter at 3:30 P.M., and it will take effect in 48 hours, before the Knesset plenum convenes next Monday. Thus the MK made sure he would not have to make a festive farewell speech and shake the prime minister's hand.

Earlier, Pines-Paz told reporters that "the impossible political conditions have brought me to the conclusion that I cannot make a difference from the Knesset."

"[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's government and the aggressive coalition, which I was forced to join, is focused on accomplishing only one thing - stability," he added. "All the rest is for sale."

The rebels issued a statement terming his resignation "a loss to the Labor Party and the Knesset."

"Pines-Paz was a leading figure in our battle for the party's character, a battle that remains pertinent even after his resignation," the statement added.

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich termed the resignation "a heavy blow to the party, which is losing a talented, moral and respected member, who represented the party's middle generation."

Ever since the last election, in February 2009, Pines-Paz has voiced deep disappointment with Barak and has spoken openly of his reluctance to remain in politics.

"I haven't prepared a golden parachute or a padded seat anywhere," he said yesterday, adding that he had no idea what he would do from now on. "The only thing I know is that I'm going home from here."

However, he said, he does not intend to join Kadima.

"Kadima is not a center-left party, but a center-right party," Pines-Paz said. "There's no point in replacing Labor, where I grew up, for Kadima. I represent the peace camp, the social democratic faction. I hope and pray such a framework will be established."

Opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni spoke to Pines-Paz immediately after he announced his resignation. She told him she had the highest esteem for his many years of parliamentary and government activity and for his unwavering integrity throughout those years.

"Your devotion to your ideology, even at the price of jobs and cabinet positions, demonstrates your unique qualities and has won the public's admiration," Livni said. "Israeli politics needs people like you."

"I am sure this is not the end of the road for you, and I hope you'll resume public service in the future," she added.

Dr. Einat Wilf is expected to replace Pines-Paz as a Labor Knesset member.

Rivlin, who entered the room in the course of Pines-Paz's resignation announcement, said he regretted the decision.

"Pines-Paz is a parliamentarian par excellence, always devoted to his public calling," Rivlin said.

He wished Pines-Paz success down the road and added, "I can only wish the Israeli public many more politicians of this kind."