The day after Amir Peretz took first place in the Labor Party primaries, he received an endorsement from Histadrut Labor Federation chief Avi Nissenkorn, giving him an additional edge over Avi Gabbay in the runoff voting next week.
Both are seeking to replace Isaac Herzog, who was knocked out of the running after coming in a distant third among seven candidates. Herzog joined the long list of predecessors in the Labor chairmanship who failed to win re-election over the last three decades in which the party has lost its dominant position in Israeli politics and now struggles with polls that predict a future of small party status.
“Amir represents what Labor needs: a real socioeconomic leader who can connect the periphery to the center of the country,” Nissenkorn said at a press conference at Labor’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
“His diplomatic ideology is sane. He has proven throughout his campaign that his values come first. He unites the people, and I believe he can unite the party and bring in new sectors to the party.”
Although the next scheduled general election in Israel isn’t until 2019, Peretz said he looks forward to early elections in May 2018, though he did not explain how he arrived at the prognostication. Politicians and pundits have been predicting an early demise of the Netanyahu government ever since it was formed in 2013. Outgoing Labor chairman Herzog made an almost daily ritual of promising that he would soon topple Netanyahu. In the end, it was Herzog that was toppled.
However, some analysts in Israel were saying on Wednesday that Herzog’s departure could indeed hasten Netanyahu’s next electoral challenge.
In a post-primary analysis, The Times of Israel observed that negotiations with Herzog — first covert, then leaked, then made public — were useful to the prime minister in holding his coalition together. The ever-present prospect of Labor joining the coalition reduced the leverage of coalition partners in dealing with Netanyahu, as it diminished the potency of any threat to bring down the government if demands were not met.
“…To avoid being pushed around by his junior partners, Netanyahu created the illusion of an additional coalition partner. Leaving vacant the sought-after cabinet position of foreign minister and periodically expressing the need for a national unity government, Netanyahu made it known that Herzog had the opportunity to join the coalition in the future,” the Times wrote.
“Tuesday’s primary election, however, put an end to Netanyahu’s use of Labor as a buffer,” the paper said.
Both Peretz and Gabbay are expected to firmly resist any overtures from Netanyahu, after viewing how a failed attempt to join the coalition severely damaged Herzog’s prestige, after he had vowed never to join Netanyahu’s right-wing government.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Peretz, in victory mode, indicated that he intends to do battle with Netanyahu, not negotiate with him. Taunting the prime minister, Peretz boasted that his candidacy is making him “sweat…My candidacy is burning him up,” he said.
But before he takes on Netanyahu, he will first have to beat Gabbay.
Gabbay told Army Radio on Wednesday that under no circumstances would he join a coalition with Netanyahu.
“Asked what he would do the day after he won the primary, if he wins, Amir said he would submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset. They asked me. I said, ‘I’ll go to places where they don’t vote Labor and persuade them to vote Labor.’”