Analysis

Peretz’s Return to the Israeli Labor Party Is a Slap in the Face for Ehud Barak

The former PM, who just made his own comeback, was banking on one of the younger candidates to win so their parties could merge – making him the undisputed leader

Ehud Barak and Amir Peretz back in 2008 when both were Labor Party leaders.
Limor Edrey

There is something sad and melancholy when a party elects a leader who led it 14 years ago and is almost 70 years old. Amir Peretz’s victory was no surprise; his two rivals, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, were mauling each other with the type of power and ego struggles that are common among older and more experienced leaders. This allowed the comeback kid, a chronic candidate for whom this was the fifth leadership campaign over the past two decades, to market himself as someone who would rehabilitate the divided party, calm it down and march it toward a bright horizon full of Knesset seats.

It’s unclear if Peretz’s election is good or bad news for Labor. There’s no doubt that in the coming days, polls will favor the party. Avi Gabbay’s election two years ago also generated polls predicting 22 to 23 seats for Labor, and eventually they got just six. When the enthusiasm wanes and the public gets used to it, things start to look different. There are still 76 days until the election.

What is clear is that Peretz’s return to party leadership at this moment is a slap in the face for Ehud Barak. Once again, real life is torpedoing his perfect, analytical and brilliant plans. He was counting on Shmuli or Shaffir, who in the name of “unity” would have agreed to be his No. 2 without batting an eye.

>> Read more: Israel’s Labor voted for gravitas over young blood | Analysis ■ What Ehud Barak really wants, even if he won't admit it 

The merger Barak was hoping for ran aground on Tuesday night. From now until August 1, the deadline for finalizing the party tickets, only the polls will speak. If Labor rises, Barak’s still-nameless party will sink, and vice versa. It’s a zero-sum game. Peretz is promising to garner some votes from the right, which he indeed succeeded in doing in the 2006 election, but one must also note that in that election Likud plummeted to 12 seats and its voters were prepared to consider other options.

So what has Peretz proven? That someone who is stubborn, who tries again and again, who gets thrown out the window and returns through the balcony – in the end succeeds. Even if it’s a default selection. There are those in Labor who suspect he intends to enter a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That suspicion also clung to Barak, who called a press conference Tuesday for no particular reason (other than to get a few seconds on the newscasts) and made it clear that there was no time, way or situation in which he would join up with Netanyahu.

During his campaign Peretz promised party members that his leadership term would be short, two years at most, after which he would contend for leadership. The young ones still have time, he said; they aren’t ready, they’re childish, let them grow up a little.

The relative surprise was Shaffir. She came in second, with 27 percent of the vote, while Shmuli, who was expected to do better than her, got a bit less, 26 percent. This can be attributed to two main things: Shaffir recruited a lot of new voters, while Shmuli preferred to focus on the existing ones. She is also better than he is at getting her voters to the polls.