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I hope Shimon Peres doesn't fall off his chair when he reads this, but I'm rooting for him. I support his nomination and I'm hoping he wins the chairmanship of the Labor Party. When I look at the clowns, sorry, candidates running against him who think they're fit to head Labor and lead the country, it makes me laugh. Here and now, I take back all the barbs and criticism I've ever had the occasion to utter against Peres.

He may be 82 years old (five years younger than the rebuilder of postwar Germany, Konrad Adenauer, when he stepped down as chancellor) and his rivals may poke fun at his age and taunt him for "hanging around," but he is still head and shoulders above them all - as a leader, as a person who understands what's going on, as a man with a proud past, international acclaim and power of endurance, and most of all, as a politician with an uncanny and incredible ability to beat all his would-be heirs in the surveys.

Ehud Barak, the head of the mockers who likes to laugh at Peres for always winning the surveys and losing the elections, remarked the other day that "the loser's cap is burning on his head." He may have been talking about Peres, but the word "loser" suits him better. He is the one who called for early elections in 2001 for no good reason and lost to Ariel Sharon by half a million votes - the worst defeat Labor has ever recorded in its entire history. Sharon never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be elected prime minister after being found unworthy of being named chief of staff and chucked out as defense minister.

Barak talks about Peres as if he were senile. But when a Dialog poll, published in Haaretz, asked the public, "Who is smarter?", 44 percent of the respondents cited Peres, as opposed to 18 percent for Barak. In other words, Peres is perceived as two and a half times smarter than Barak, the man who thinks he owns the patent on human intelligence.

I look around and wonder at the audacity, for starters, of Amir Peretz, who entered the Knesset with all of three seats and joined Labor with two. Does this man really believe he is capable of ushering the country from a war on terror into an era of peace and permanent borders? And what proven abilities have Vilnai and Fuad shown in their years in government to justify placing Israel in their hands at this hour?

Peres is the default option. He needs to be elected for at least one very important reason - to make sure that none of the other contenders win. These guys are members of the "desert generation." They will never get us to the Promised Land.

And since the likelihood of Labor winning the next elections against Sharon is zero to begin with, it's better to elect an 82-year-old man who'll make the best of the time he has left, as long as his mental faculties hold out, if only to keep these other contenders at bay. We need Peres to be Labor chairman as a blocker, until a new cadre of leaders arises, until the Bravermans, the Ayalons, the Dichters, the Pineses, the Herzogs and the other bright stars that may appear on the firmament are ready to accept the baton of leadership and are worthy of it - in short, until some fresh-faced newcomer turns up to pick up the Labor Party off the floorboards.

It's not that Israel is eager or deserving of old leaders, or that oldsters are better. To the contrary, the public, divided into this camp or that, welcomed two young, brilliant superstars - Netanyahu and Barak - with open arms. But both of them disappointed. They failed as leaders and were defeated one after another. Perhaps they themselves, or their clones, will rise again; but thus far, they haven't. In the meantime, the country is in the hands of two old men who have managed, despite their age, to hold on to their seats, their brain power and their sharp wits.

This duo, marching side by side, will win together or fall together. They will be tested not only by their implementation of the disengagement, but how they fare in the complicated stages that come next, as dividing the country takes center stage.

With the Labor Party in a tizzy, battling over seats, and the Likud on the brink of rebellion, Sharon and Shimon - the two S's, one in the front and the other right behind - are good for the Jews today. And they could be just as irreplaceable in 2006. As they say in retirement homes: Now all they need is health.