Barak Aides Pressuring Pines-Paz, Yatom to Bow Out of Primaries

Eight days before the Labor Party primaries, aides to Ehud Barak are turning up the heat on MKs Ophir Pines-Paz and Danny Yatom in an effort to persuade them to bow out before the first round of voting a week from tomorrow.

On Friday, the party's central committee voted to postpone deciding whether to stay in the government coalition until after the primary, in a victory for Amir Peretz and a blow to Pines and MK Ami Ayalon.

Barak's aides have been calling supporters of Pines and Yatom who are known to oppose Barak's main rival in the race, Ayalon, and telling them that a vote for their candidates is in effect a vote for Ayalon. Senior officials in Barak headquarters say the individuals they are targeting have little personal commitment to any of the candidates but believe in Barak's skills as minister of defense and think he can best Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu in a general election.

Barak wants to avoid a second primary round, since surveys show that Ayalon would beat him in a two-way race. To that end, he is focusing his efforts this week on narrowing the field of candidates. One battleground in this war is the kibbutz sector, where both Barak and Ayalon have a significant advantage over their rivals. Both camps have also recently recruited retired generals to play up another group where they poll well. Yesterday former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak announced that he supported Barak.

Ayalon's campaign is launching its final-week push under the slogan: "Only Ayalon can return Labor to the government." His aides say they will leverage their candidate's significant advantage over Barak among the general public as a choice for defense minister and as a vote-getter for Labor. They will also play the personality card, presenting Barak as a person who has turned his back on his own people, who does not listen and does not learn from his mistakes.