Israelis don't go to the polls until Jan. 28, but pundits have already declared the Labor Party the big losers. Although a corruption scandal centered on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and allegations of vote-buying in the Likud Party primaries seem to have cost the party about 10 seats in the Knesset, Likud is still a shoo-in to form the next government, albeit without a majority. A Ha'aretz op-ed declared, "This is a campaign of losers, between Sharon and the weakened Labor candidate, in which the winner will be the one who provides more detailed proof of his failure."
An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post blamed Labor's inevitable second-place finish on leader Amram Mitzna, declaring, "Labor could normally have capitalized on the unmasking of Sharon's and the Likud's corruption had it not had the misfortune of being led by a political fool." Mitzna's biggest mistake, according to his critics, was refusing to even consider participating in another Likud-led coalition. Another Post op-ed said that instead of taking a negative stance, he "should have stated his conditions for participation in such a government. … Mitzna does not understand that his only chance to become prime minister is by entering a unity government as defense or foreign minister and building a record of performance, integrity, success and credible reputation on major issues of governance."
On Monday, a poll in the Israeli daily Ma'ariv suggested that if veteran pol Shimon Peres were Labor's leader, the party would win 29 Knesset seats against Likud's 30. (Current reality-based polls show Labor taking 18-19 seats and Likud 31.) According to Ha'aretz, candidates positioned between 20 and 30 on Labor's election list immediately petitioned Mitzna to step aside for Peres. (A person in the 25th spot would become an MKs if Labor's share of the vote qualified the party for 25 Knesset seats.) Ha'aretz dismissed the idea, declaring, "If Labor wants to preserve its standing as one of the two ruling parties in Israel, its leadership must line up behind its elected leader and the platform from which it seeks to win the voters' confidence." Writing in Yediot Ahronoth, commentator Nahum Barnea saw the floating of Peres as an eleventh-hour savior as one of the rituals of Israeli election campaigns:
The first week has to see a headline saying "A mole has been discovered in the Likud/Labor headquarters." Then comes, "The Labor candidate is not taking off," followed by "The Likud candidate is holding secret talks with the Palestinians," culminating in the grand finale that "Peres would win if he were the candidate, according to the polls. Let him lead the party, and he will lead it to victory." [But] the connection between these headlines and reality is close to zero. There is no mole, no peace talks, and no Peres candidacy.
Ma'ariv's Dan Margalit agreed that the idea of ditching a party leader elected only two months ago in favor of 79-year-old Peres was "a sad reflection on the state of the Labor Party," but he concluded it was still worth considering. "True, the notion of Peres coming back to take the reins seems strange, weird and unfeasible. But there is a counterweight to all that: The fact that the Likud, Shinui, Meretz, and other parties are united in not wanting it to happen."