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LABOR FINALLY STARTS WORKING

New Party Leader Peretz: 'I Plan On Winning Next Election'

Consultations To Start Next Week On Early Election Date, Possibly In March

Sharon Sources: 'Peretz Is Meretz' (Far Left Party)

Amir Peretz

Incoming Labor Party leader Amir Peretz has received a rousing welcome from Labor Knesset Members after his surprise victory over Shimon Peres. The Labor convention is now set to convene within three weeks to vote on bolting the coalition government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Peretz is also due to see Sharon next week to discuss a date for an early election, possibly in March.

Labor’s new leader Amir Peretz has hit the ground running after his surprise victory over Shimon Peres. Peretz has started moving on pulling Labor out of Sharon’s coalition government and forcing an early election, possibly in March.

‘I call upon you to give me credit that I’ll need to carry out my policies. If I do not succeed in my goal of Labor taking over the helm of state then I’ll to pay the price. That will be my real test!’ That was the appeal by Amir Peretz to his Labor party colleagues. Fresh from his victory over Shimon Peres, Peretz announced his campaign to oust Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an early election. What are his chances? The hard- driving union leader, from the immigrant town of Sderot in the Negev, has proven he is a winner. Without a doubt, Peretz has charisma, drive and energizes voters. In a society where the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer and where one of three kids lives below the poverty line, Peretz pounced on the failure of his own Labor party to take on the Likud. But will the fiery socialist try and take Israel back to the days of government regulation and handouts? Peretz says no; he favors not only a market economy but also a welfare state where the underpriviledged get a fair shake. (With his credibility as a defender of the ‘working man’s’ rights, Peretz could be a prime mover in formulating a new social- economic pact between government, employers and labor unions). This has caught on with public opinion polls boosting Labor up to 30 seats under Peretz. This of course is not lost on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who now talks of waging ‘a war on poverty’. So, Peretz has a winning personality and popular economic platform but what about security in a country that faces Palestinian terrorism and an Iranian threat of annihilation? The new Labor leader is a declared dove, who talks in general terms about making peace with the Palestinians. This is his soft spot and he will now have to come up with hard answers. On the day after his stunning victory, Peretz visited the grave of Yitzhak Rabin on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl. Peretz can be counted on to try and create the image of taking on Rabin’s peace- making mantle. But lacking experience in foreign affairs and defense, this is easier said than done. It is still hard to visualize his taking on Sharon in this arena. Peretz is supported by former Ami Ayalon, a former Shabak security chief and IDF general. Ayalon has championed the need for Israel to set her final borders in the ongoing saga with the Palestinian Authority. If Peretz also thinks along this line on security and Sharon is talking about making war on poverty, maybe the two leaders could strike a deal after the next election.

It’s still early days, but the Peretz victory has already raised a spirited public debate on how to alleviate the growing poverty in Israel. Former Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Sharon’s main Likud rival, is given credit for getting the economy back on track but he is also taking the rap for what is being viewed as ‘overkill’ in slashing welfare budgets.

David Essing

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