Labor Cancels Vote for PM Candidate

The Labor Central Committee last night gave Chairman Ehud Barak the nod as the party's candidate for prime minister in the next elections, bypassing a primary. The proposal was sponsored by MK Ophir Pines-Paz.

Just three weeks after being voted party chair, Barak has pulled off a series of moves within Labor designed to lock in his control of all elements of the party machine, from securing the appointment last night of Barak supporter Moshe Shahal as chairman of Labor's constitutional committee (a move intended to restore the party to financial health) and the appointment of his confidant, Eldad Yaniv, to head of Labor headquarters. Yaniv, an attorney, will work closely with General Secetary MK Eitan Cabel, another Barak stalwart. With their help and that of his supporters in the cabinet, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Shalom Simhon, Barak will control the Central Committee.

Last night Barak announced his decision to name MK Matan Vilnai as his deputy minister of defense in place of MK Ephraim Sneh, a move approved by the central committee. Sneh, who supported former party chair MK Amir Peretz and who had previously served as deputy to Barak in the Defense Ministry, was praised by Barak for his "holy work," but the message was clear: Barak supporters are to be rewarded at the expense of those who backed his rivals. Peretz did not give a speech and left the party conference early.

Barak fulfilled the promise he made to Pines-Paz before he clinched the party chairmanship. Last night he submitted to the central committee his promise that the party not remain in the coalition of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after the release of the final report of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War and work to negotiate a date for early elections in the event that Olmert does not resign. Barak did not spell out the exact details of the Pines-Barak pledge and did not reiterate his call for Olmert's resignation. The value of the central committee's approval is primarily declarative, as it can be changed if Barak wants to do so.

Pines-Paz, for his part, explained that holding an additional party primary would only do harm. "We chose Barak," he said. "Let's give him a genuine opportunity to lead the party."

Barak spoke of his commitment to peace while guaranteeing Israel's security interests. He said that peace can be achieved only "when the other side understands that Israel cannot be brought down. Israel must stand firmly on its feet, with its eyes open, with one hand seaching for the tiniest opening toward peace and the other with its finger on the trigger when needed."