Amir Peretz, one of the two contenders to lead the Labor Party, vowed Wednesday to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in a general election held next year.
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Peretz, who headed Labor around a decade ago and was defense minister during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, even predicted exactly when the election would happen: May. Formally, an election is not required in Israel until 2019.
This week Peretz won the first round of the Labor leadership primary, making it to the final round against Avi Gabbay, a former environmental protection minister. The two will vie in a runoff on Monday.
Speaking to reporters at Labor headquarters in Tel Aviv, the 65-year-old Peretz dismissed the idea of forming a center-left bloc before the next election, calling the idea unfeasible. But he said another right-wing government must not be allowed to form in 2018.
“The smell of Bibi’s sweat reaches from Jerusalem to Sderot,” Peretz said, using Netanyahu’s nickname and referring to Peretz's hardscrabble hometown near Gaza. "My candidacy is burning him up.”
A Peretz victory Monday could prove bad news for Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Hatnuah party that currently is the junior partner in the Zionist Union alliance with Labor. Peretz set up Hatnuah with Livni in 2012 before returning to Labor. Livni has said she supports any Labor candidate who can build a bloc.
Among Peretz’s supporters at the press conference was Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation – which Peretz led before beating Shimon Peres to lead Labor in 2005.
Peretz thanked Labor’s current leader, Isaac Herzog, who came in a distant third in the vote Tuesday. Herzog had led Labor to “extraordinary achievements,” Peretz said. In the March 2015 election, Labor placed second behind Netanyahu’s Likud, which formed Israel’s latest right-wing government.
Peretz noted that both he and Gabbay had Moroccan roots.
“The fact that I was born in Morocco is something I am very proud of, and I am happy that the Mizrahi community sees my breakthrough as something they are proud of,” he said. “I want people to vote for me because I promise them a better future.”
Peretz was born in Boujad, Morocco, while Gabbay, 50, was born in Jerusalem to Moroccan-born parents.
For his part, Gabbay told Army Radio on Wednesday that under no circumstances would he join a governing coalition with Netanyahu. He said his campaigning in the first round of the Labor race was less negative.
“We restrained ourselves. I insisted that we maintain a positive tone,” he said. “Asked what he would do the day after he won the primary, if he wins, Amir said he would submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset. They asked me. I said, ‘I’ll go to places where they don’t vote Labor and persuade them to vote Labor.'”
In the first round, Peretz won 32.7 percent of the vote, versus 27.1 percent for Gabbay. Herzog came in third at 16.7 percent.