Labour Ministers in the Government are accusing their party leader, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, of trying to break up the party to build a new formation that would include Kadima and the Pensioners Party.
At a closed meeting, Mr Barak allegedly said that he was only months away from leading Labour out of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition.
The internal warfare between Mr Barak and his predecessor, Amir Peretz, intensified this week when Mr Peretz accused the current leader of having “an obsession to be prime minister but no agenda”. Mr Barak responded: “I am finally convinced that I have no chance in competing with you in being pathetic.”
Mr Peretz plans to challenge Mr Barak for the Labour leadership before the next elections. National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was also recorded by a TV camera crew telling a colleague at the start of a cabinet meeting, that “we are breaking up” and “if he (Barak) wants to commit suicide, let him, I’m not with you”.
Mr Barak is accused by members of the party of neglecting grassroots supporters and not approving funds for local activities, preferring to work with a small group of close advisers. At a closed meeting he held with bereaved families of IDF soldiers, he said that elections were “closer than you think” and that Mr Olmert should have resigned after the publication of the Winograd Commission report.
These quotes have fuelled speculation that Mr Barak is planning to try and unite the three centrist parties under his leadership in the next elections.
Mr Barak is frustrated by the fact that in almost a year since he became Labour leader and defence minister, both his personal approval ratings and the fortunes of the party have failed to rise in the opinion polls, while Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has been riding high since the Lebanon War.
Mr Barak has always been seen as an outsider in the Labour apparatus. In the 1999 elections which he won, he preferred to broaden the platform, by adding two small parties — the centrist-religious party Meimad and the now extinct Gesher — to Labour’s parliamentary list to form One Israel.