Former prime minister Ehud Barak officially stepped down from the race for the Labor Party chairmanship yesterday.
Barak made the announcement at a meeting of Labor's Central Committee, which decided that the party will hold primaries on November 8.
Barak said he would not contend for the party leadership due to the forged membership drive. He called on party members to unite around chairman Shimon Peres, and promised to request the support of party members to lead them in the future.
Barak was the first to address the committee, and spoke of the historic opportunity facing Labor given the Likud's situation. "I came here for a marathon, not a sprint, and I will return to request your trust to serve as your emissary in the Knesset and the government, and in time, to lead you," he said.
Barak's initiative was rejected by Ministers Matan Vilnai and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Histadrut labor federation chairman Amir Peretz. All three announced they would vie for the party's leadership.
Vilnai was the first to respond to Barak. "Your resignation today from the race proves that you understand your situation among the party members and the public at large. Just do me one favor: Don't paint it in ideological colors. You have resigned because you know you can't win."
Addressing Peres, Vilnai suggested that he also step down from the race so that the party can move ahead into the future.
Peretz, who according to the latest surveys is likely to make it through to a second round of voting against Peres, delivered a belligerent address, speaking of the obstacles placed in his path to block his return to the party. Most of his barbs, however, were aimed at Barak. "The Arab sector abandoned us in anger after the events of October... Even the kibbutzim and moshavim - the sector you come from - know that you are no longer there, that you are somewhere in Akirov Towers," he said.
The Histadrut chairman accused Barak of systematically destroying the party, attempting to sabotage the leadership race, and abandoning his supporters.
Peretz also aimed some of his words to Peres, who strongly supported his return to the party. Peretz said he had never promised Peres anything other than to work together to return Labor to power.
Yesterday was not a good day for Barak, and the struggle he waged to annul the membership drive and cancel the primaries also failed, with the Central Committee approving the updated voters' roll and setting a November 8 primaries date in keeping with Labor Secretary General MK Eitan Cabel's proposal.
Cabel has been authorized to postpone the primaries to November 9 if the November 8 date does not suit the party's Muslim members.
More than 100,000 party members will be eligible to participate in the primaries.