Some Defeats Are Happy

Sounds of rejoicing emerged from behind the heavy door of Defense Minister Amir Peretz's offices yesterday morning. Peretz and the MKs and ministers supporting him were celebrating his achievements in the Labor primaries. As the hours passed, the jubilation increased, reaching its peak with a victory gathering Peretz hosted for his activists.

A strange atmosphere settled over the Labor Party yesterday. The two front-runners, Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon, one of whom will become the party's new leader in two weeks, were silent, while Peretz did not stop celebrating, as if he were not the defeated chairman; as if he had not lost 50 percent of his voters in 18 months, and the faith of 90 percent of the public; as if he would not soon have to part with the defense portfolio, tarred by the harsh findings of the Winograd Committee.

This is not the first time Peretz has used his God-given talent to turn defeat into victory. In the Knesset elections he brought his party its lowest result ever, 19 seats, despite the social focus of the election campaign. Then, too, the failure was presented as a victory; he presented himself as a martyr who had fought and overcome the forces of darkness.

It cannot be denied that Peretz garnered a respectable result in the primaries: 22.4 percent, which will help him keep his head above water in the expected power struggles in the party, and perhaps impact the identity of the next chair.

"I will be taking a leave from the post of party chairman," Peretz told his associates yesterday. He hopes to be back before long. He will be deciding in the coming days which candidate to throw his weight behind in the second round - Ayalon or Barak. Until then, his spokespeople will drum into the public's head the mantra of the "social banner." Whoever of the two candidates raises the banner higher, more spectacularly, will receive Peretz's support.

Let's assume that this, too, is important. But no less important to Peretz is the personal banner. Peretz has, in fact, already decided to support Ayalon, for the following reasons: First of all, he wants to take revenge on Barak for the duplex in the Akirov Towers, for the alliance with Histadrut labor federation activists against him, for Barak's close relationship with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and for being the head of a ministerial camp that undermined him.

But there is another reason: Barak is surrounded by political foxes: Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Shalom Simhon, Isaac Herzog, Matan Vilnai. If Peretz supports Barak, they will not let him take over if Barak fails.

Ayalon, on the other hand, is surrounded by Avishay Braverman, and that is all. If Ayalon is elected and fails, Peretz can easily take over on the way to reconquering the chairmanship.

Peretz has chosen to back Ayalon; that is a natural choice from his point of view. But he needs to fix things with his supporters, many of whom prefer Barak, before he announces his choice. Until then, he can, and should, continue celebrating.