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UPDATED: 12:12, June 10, 2007
Israeli lawmaker Ayalon may drop declaration to topple Olmert gov't
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Ami Ayalon, a member of Israeli Knesset (parliament), or MK, will have to drop his earlier declaration not to sit in the current government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert if he wins the upcoming final round of the Labor Party primaries, said sources close to the lawmaker.

According to the sources, Ayalon passed the power to decide whether or not to leave the Olmert government when he received the support of outgoing Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Amir Peretz in hope to win the next runoff race on June 12, against former premier Ehud Barak.

"Amir Peretz and I had several good meetings and we have decided to join forces and to win this race even among the Arab voters," Ayalon said Monday, while entering the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee.

Ayalon came second to Barak with a 30.6 percent of the votes in the first round of the party's internal elections and Peretz followed with 22.4 percent.

Ayalon, 62, former chairman of the Israeli domestic secret service Shin-Beit (1996-2000) and former commander of the Israeli Navy (1992-1996).

In 2003 he launched, together with Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, a peace initiative called The People's Voice. The idea was to collect as many Israeli and Palestinian signatures as possible for a peace plan guidelines supporting a two-state- solution without the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In 2006, Ayalon was elected to the parliament on the Labor Party list.

Last Sunday, Peretz told his supporters in a rally at the Labor Party headquarters in Tel-Aviv that he had decided to give his support to Ayalon and asked his voters to do the same, stressing that the party socioeconomic agenda is safe with Ayalon.

"Ayalon and Peretz reached some general understandings regarding the party's crucial agendas such as the social issues and the need to start a political channel parallel to the military operations in the Gaza Strip. This was not a political deal," Tal Sandroni, an advisor to Peretz, told Xinhua in an interview.

Barak called this an "Unholy Alliance", saying that Ayalon failed to live up to the incorruptibility image he took upon himself when he decided to run for the chairmanship.

An associate close to Barak stressed that this partnership might end up damaging Ayalon's chances to win, after all.

"This connection between Ayalon and Peretz creates a new situation for Ayalon's voters who voted for him because they want someone new and clean-handed. Now, if they vote Ayalon they get Peretz who they didn't want in the first round," a Barak associate told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

Even with first Israeli Arab minister Raleb Majadele's support, Ayalon is aware that it is a long shot reaching the Arab and the Druse voices, which constitute together a 22.3 percent of total Labor Party voters.

"I cannot tell if Ayalon will win, but if he does, he won't act immediately to unseat Olmert's government. He needs time to establish his leadership. If he acts right after the primaries to topple over Olmert's government he would basically have gone through all of this just to give it up," Majadele said to Xinhua.

Sources close to Ayalon assume that if he wins, general elections will not be on the agenda for the next 12-18 months.

The sources explained that in his agreement with Peretz it was decided that the power to determine whether to sit or not at Olmert' government will be given to the party, adding currently there is no majority among Labor MKs to leave the Olmert government.

The sources estimate that if Ayalon wins, there will be little movements within the Labor ministers appointments. It is reasonable to expect Ayalon to take the Defense Ministry while Peretz will receive the Welfare and Social Services Ministry or the Interior Ministry, they said.

Nonetheless, at the Barak camp, advisers are convinced that Peretz's supporters might disappoint Ayalon at the decisive moment.

"The assumption that the 22.4 percent that voted to Peretz in the first round will vote to Ayalon is wrong from its root. Peretz 's voters wanted Peretz, not Ayalon. We believe that a large amount of Peretz's voters will abandon him at the ballot box," said a Barak associate.

"It is plain cynicism to say that they (Ayalon and Peretz) closed a deal. Does someone believe that Barak and Fouad cooperate together out of altruist motives," a Ayalon associate told Xinhua, referring to Minister of National Infrastructure Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer who brought to Barak his 5 percent winning advantage of the Arab and the Druse voices.

"This is what politics is all about: cooperation and partnership. Barak is the only politician who thinks he can win alone. He always does things alone," the associate said.

They added that "Peretz's voters won't betray him, they were hurt of the de-legitimacy Barak's people tried to do when they described them as a herd of followers and they will vote to Ayalon to demonstrate their power and influence."

Finally, a latest poll shows that Ayalon receives the support of 49 percent of Labor votes while Barak receives 44 percent.

However, this poll was conducted before MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who got 8 percent of the votes in the first round, announced on Wednesday that he supports Barak, improving Barak's credibility.

Source: Xinhua

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