Two Labor frontrunners in leadership primary Barak and Ayalon face off in second round June 12

Former prime minister Ehud Barak polled 36%, comfortably ahead of former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon’s 31% and the incumbent, outgoing defense minister Amir Peretz, who trailed them in third place with 23%. Peretz will hand the defense ministry over to the winner. Of the party’s 103,000 voters, 65% turned out. Labor’s shrinking constituency has left the party only marginally relevant on the national political scene. Their figures were down to the hundreds in several important cities.
The short-term effects of the Labor primary are:
1. Amir Peretz quits the defense ministry for which he was never qualified and whose performance in last year’s Lebanon War was widely denigrated.
2. Labor, founded by David Ben Gurion as a social democratic party, which defined Israel as a Zionist state, is no longer a Zionist party but rather a bi-national Jewish-Arab grouping ruled by veteran elites and moneyed classes in the well-off Tel Aviv region.
The party, like the prime minister’s Kadima, has failed to leave its imprint on the million newcomers from Russia or the young 18-25 voter.
Too few bought Peretz’s contention that Labor’s mission was to keep Ehud Olmert’s shaky government in office as a force for stability. Last year’s Lebanon War fatally damaged the credibility of the Kadima-Labor partnership at the helm of a country at war. The popular appeal of Olmert’s coalition has hit rock bottom, losing out to the Likud-led opposition. An early election, for which Barak campaigned, would clearly threaten the survival of both parties. Ayalon’s demand for Kadima to replace Olmert as prime minister would have the same result. It is therefore hard to see whichever one carries the day in June sticking to his campaign pledges.
The regional security situation is more volatile than ever. Israeli is directly threatened by Iran, Syria and the Hamas-ruled Palestinians. Any more knocks that imperil Israel again will be placed at the government’s door and probably deliver the coup de grace to prime minister Olmert and his partners.
Barak as defense minister carries some unfortunate baggage from his two years as prime minister up to 2001. It was his decision to pull Israeli troops out of southern Lebanon without preparing the country for the Palestinian uprising which followed. He then went into failed peace talks with Yasser Arafat. President Bill Clinton was later to regret his role as broker.
Ayalon has a rich security background as former navy commander and Shin Bet chief. He is a tyro in politics and government, which could turn out to be either an asset or a disadvantage.

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