Analysis / Peretz's Crucial Week

Amir Peretz's victory speech in praise of Labor's Knesset list, which will be elected tonight, is all but written. With a little luck, a decent voter turnout and not too many deals, Peretz will finally have cause for celebration, after a long twilight period.

The major contenders ensure a balanced, more than reasonable list. There is a healthy combination of experienced veterans (Matan Vilnai and Benjamin Ben-

Eliezer), young experienced members (Isaac Herzog and Ophir Pines-Paz), new experienced members (Ami Ayalon, Avishay Braverman and Aryeh Amit) and promising new candidates (Shelly Yachimovich and Alon Pinkas). Along with the other candidates, the list will be just as attractive as Likud's or even Kadima's, which Ehud Olmert is now forming.

The next seven days will be crucial for Peretz. If Labor does not revive in the opinion polls within that period, only a miracle will be able to save him from an election disaster on March 28. Labor's election campaign, tended once again by American spin doctors, was launched (again) yesterday. Sunday's convention meeting is also expected to give it a shot of Adrenalin.

If all these don't work, Labor seems doomed. Peretz of 2006 is somewhat reminiscent of Netanyahu of 1999. Seven years ago, on the eve of the Knesset elections, some of Likud's senior members quit - Dan Meridor, Roni Milo, Itzhak Mordechai and Ze'ev Binyamin Begin. Netanyahu did not fare well in those elections.

Six senior Laborites have left since 2003 - Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik are in Kadima, Avraham Shochat and Avraham Burg are in business and Amram Mitzna is in the Yeroham municipality. Peretz alone cannot fill that gap. Nor can Braverman, Peretz's shiniest new acquisition.

The big question is whether at Sunday's festive convention Peretz will call Ehud Barak to join him, promising him slot No. 2 or 3 on the list and a senior ministerial portfolio in the next government. This will be Peretz's last chance to enlist Barak, assuming this is what he wants to do. So far he has avoided making a move in this direction.

Barak promised Peretz immediately after he was elected that if they formed a real partnership, with Barak as No. 2 and promised a portfolio, such as defense, he would not run against Peretz in the next term, even if Peretz were to lose the election. It is not clear whether this agreement is still valid even if Peretz does call Barak to come home, and even if Barak agrees to do so.