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Ami Ayalon is a puzzle. With the facade of a man with determination and self-confidence, his conduct in politics displays a frenetic skipping around. His image of total integrity and the temperament of a "square" ostensibly do not accord with the guile and deviousness one would expect from a former chief of the Shin Bet security services.

His impressive military and defense record presumably requires intelligence and keen diagnostic ability, and yet there are the not very smart reactions he has displayed during his short period in public life.

Still, Ayalon is starting the second round in the race for the leadership of the Labor Party with a clear advantage over his rival, Ehud Barak: He has a policy, he has a path, he is calling on people to follow the Ayalon route.

It's not only that Barak's ideological path is blocked because his advisers recommended that he keep silent during the election campaign, but also mainly because nobody knows where Barak's path leads.

His self-imposed silence arouses suspicion that he is lost and searching for a path, like most of the politicians, or that his views on the burning political issues are so similar to those of the rival parties (Kadima and Likud) he prefers to conceal them from registered Labor voters.

The Labor electorate will be making a mistake if it allows Barak to continue with this approach: Labor voters must demand that he present his plan for running the country. They have a right to hear what he proposes to do about the firing of Qassam rockets; what his attitude is toward the Hamas-led Palestinian government; what his reaction is to the peace signals from Syria; whether he thinks (like opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu) that the Iranian danger should top the government agenda; what his attitude is to attacks on the Supreme Court by several of the country's leaders; what his philosophy is in the socioeconomic sphere; whether he still believes in the proposals he made to Yasser Arafat at Camp David; and what lesson he learned from the conflagration in the Arab sector in October 2000.

The good of the country requires that the Labor Party separate itself from the Likud. The viewpoint of the right led Israel into the swamp in which it is now mired.

The sin originated with the illusion that little Israel had the ability to swallow up the territories captured during the Six-Day War. Experience proves that the country did not have the ability, when it came to defense and demographics, to fulfill this expectation, and there were also ethical, social and political problems that made it difficult.

Labor was a central partner to this viewpoint, which has embittered the lives of Israelis for 40 years. The history of the Labor movement indicates it was destined to fulfill an opposite role: to demonstrate a realistic approach, and not to be caught up in futile visions, to prefer compromise to principle.

But during the heady days after June 1967, the leaders of Labor were also carried away. After a generation, Labor must return to its sources and offer the Israeli public the dovish option, which is willing to examine, cautiously and responsibly, the chances of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, instead of clashing with them incessantly.

Among the Zionist parties, only Meretz holds this view, and its minimal parliamentary strength attests to the importance attributed to this view by the public. Labor has the job of representing the Meretz philosophy and leveraging it by dint of its status, its legacy and its organizational ability.

Kadima is not expected to play a genuine role in the coming elections, and therefore the mission facing the next leader of Labor will be to challenge Netanyahu and the Likud philosophy.

Ayalon seems to be capable of that: His views clearly differ from those of the Likud, and his lifestyle also reflects a type of purity and modesty that are foreign to the temperaments of Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu.

Barak is not graced with these qualities, neither in his personal conduct nor apparently in his worldview. Two days ago, on the morning of the primaries, Barak told the voters: You must decide who you want to have leading the country in wartime.

The Labor voters are permitted to expect those competing for their votes to say: You must decide who is capable of bringing peace.