Defense Minister Amir Peretz spent hours Monday, from late morning to 5P.M., in a security debate in the Prime Minister's Bureau. His supporters said angrily that Olmert isolated Peretz to prevent him from doing what he does best - mingling with the people and winning their votes.

Four months ago Peretz prepared a dignified retreat, announcing that regardless of the primary results, he would leave the Defense Ministry. YMonday, he said that if he won, Olmert would have no choice but to give him the coveted finance portfolio, which he was supposed to receive in the first place.

By Monday afternoon his optimism had waned but he had established himself as head of Labor's campaign for social causes.

Peretz performs well in difficult circumstances and thrives when everyone is against him. But Monday, at the polling station in Kfar Shalem, surrounded by the warm embraces reserved for election days, he resorted to the old arguments of ethnic discrimination that he himself had steered clear of in the previous showdown.

"They see me as a wounded brother," he said. "They truly love me, they're waiting for me to recover and will go all the way with me from the beginning."

"The best result for me would be a large, strong following of advocates of social causes," he said.

Peretz's return to social causes and to the ethnic sub-group in Labor, a party which has long been the bastion of the wealthy bourgeoisie, is the result of agonizing deliberations with his associates in recent weeks. The young social democrats who followed him to Labor and became its fresh, ideological faction told him a few days ago that they would support him, not [Ami] Ayalon or [Avishay] Braverman, as he had feared.

As of Monday Peretz is bound to them, as to others like Shelly Yachimovich, and they are bound to support him because now he is seen as the party's victim.

Peretz's feeling can be best described as insult. His colleagues stabbed him in the back, he said this week, and the media mocked him, and that even Labor's voters despise him because he "wasn't born on a kibbutz," like the two leading candidates.

His clutching at the "social causes" and efforts to emphasize what he called his economic-social achievements will have interesting implications for Labor's future.

An estimated 60 or 70 percent of those who followed Peretz into the party in the previous primaries, in which he beat Shimon Peres, are believed to have voted for him. Those who dropped out of this group are disillusioned supporters like Yuval Elbashan, who despaired of Peretz's performance in the war and feel that he abandoned his social-democratic principles.

Israel's defense minister, the man who less than a year ago was backed by the left wing's intellectual elite, was abruptly dropped and pushed into the stance of the rejected Moroccan from the township in the periphery.

This tactic should not be taken lightly. It may be destructive to the social-democratic cause and could even split the left's already flimsy social-economic camp, but Peretz could achieve more with it than meets the eye.

At 10 P.M. Monday night Nissim Zvili, who had supported Ami Ayalon, said that Peretz had set a new order of priorities for the government and "has an important place in any Labor leadership."

One of Peretz's associates did not rule out the possibility that Peretz would cooperate with Barak against Ayalon. Zvili's statement suggests he could also cooperate with Ayalon against Barak. In any case, in Labor in particular and in Israeli politics in general, this is only one round of many.