Ex-PM Ehud Barak Eyeing Top Labor Spot Again

With the deadline only four weeks away, potential candidates for Labor Party Chairman - including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak - are preparing their strategies.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 12:25

Four candidates have officially entered the race: Chairman Amir Peretz and MKs Ophir Pines, Danny Yatom, and Ami Ayalon.

Ayalon, a first-time Knesset Member who served as head of the General Security Services (Shabak), is in first place, polls show. Just behind him is Pines, who resigned as a Cabinet minister several weeks ago in protest of the Yisrael Beiteinu party's entry into the government coalition.

Two who have not yet declared their candidacies, but are strongly considering doing so, are Ehud Barak (pictured) and rookie MK Avishai Braverman.

Barak left politics nearly six years ago, after he lost his bid for re-election as Prime Minister in Ariel Sharon's landslide victory. His possible return has been the center of rumors for much of the time since then, and particularly in recent months. Barak met yesterday with one of his former political allies, MK Danny Yatom, and asked him to withdraw his candidacy. Yatom refused - a possible indication of the unwelcoming arms with which Barak is likely to be greeted by much of the party if he returns.

In addition to his overwhelming loss to Sharon six years ago, the recent war in Lebanon has also cast a cloud over Barak's reputation - for it was Barak, as Prime Minister, who withdrew the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000 without ensuring that Hizbullah would not be able to rearm.

January 30 is the date by which candidates for the party's top spot must be registered. Neither can members who join the party after this date vote in its primaries. No date has been scheduled for the internal Labor election, though May 2007 appears likely.

Chairmanship of the Labor Party has changed hands many times in the past years. Following Yitzchak Rabin's assassination in 1995, the post has been held by Shimon Peres (more than once), Ehud Barak, Amram Mitzna, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Amir Peretz.