Analysis / Labor's Finest Hour'

The hall in which Labor held its central committee meeting was in a shambles. Addisu Messele, who broke the meeting up, sat stunned on his chair. Amir Peretz, who had sent him to the podium to speak, sat on another chair, sipping water. Peretz's men stood on chairs making obscene gestures at Ehud Barak, who stood on the stage like Churchill, holding up his thumbs in a victory sign.

Minutes earlier Barak had tried to grab the microphone but was stopped by party secretary general Eitan Cabel, who closed the meeting.

Above the ruckus, which resembled the Likud's central committee at worst and a Monty Python skit at best, hung the sign: "Labor's finest hour."

The committee members walked out of the hall shocked, and voted, as expected, for the secretary general's proposal to postpone the party primaries indefinitely, until after the recent membership drive results are thoroughly checked.

Barak, Matan Vilnai and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer all heaved an audible sigh of relief. Their joint rival Peretz had been humiliated. You had to talk to some of Peretz's less violent supporters to understand the enormity of their defeat. Regardless of when the primaries will be held - October, November or after the Knesset elections - Peretz will find it very difficult to recreate the momentum that recently catapulted him to the head of the list, neck-and-neck with Peres.

From the first moment, the atmosphere in pavilion number 15 in Tel Aviv's Fair Grounds was tense with suppressed violence. Peretz's camp huddled on one side, while Barak's people gathered on the other. The three other contenders could just as well not have existed. They became extras in the great show. Peres, Vilnai and Ephraim Sneh gave speeches, and then Peretz's man, David Cohen was sent to the podium.

"You saw Peretz was winning and decided to put off the primaries," he yelled. After him was Ben-Eliezer, then came Messele, who had been kicked off Labor's Knesset list six years ago by Barak's men, in favor of Russian Sofa Landver.

"You're king of fraud," he screamed hoarsely at Barak. "You're a dangerous man. You fled and returned to destroy what you left behind," he shouted repeatedly.

Barak's supporters started going wild. From the opposite side of the room Peretz's men stood on their chairs and swore at Barak. Within minutes the meeting was in an uproar.

Nobody can call Labor sleepy, old or dull anymore. Peretz's 300 soldiers, whom he brought from his previous party One Nation, have clearly infused the party with a new spirit.

But Peretz shot himself in the foot by sending Messele to the podium. The Histadrut leader was supposed to close the debate, and with his rhetorical skills, could have swept the audience up and perhaps caused different results. But Peretz never got to speak; Cabel closed the meeting before his turn.

The only one who remained calm in the turmoil was Peres. As far as he is concerned, any result is a good one. Putting off the primaries leaves him in the chairman's seat - and, more important, in the cabinet beside Arik.