Economy Minister Amir Peretz announced Wednesday that he is stepping down as Labor Party leader, after recent polls predicted the party will not pass the threshold to win any Knesset seats in the upcoming elections.
Peretz’s announcement comes as Israel heads into its fourth elections in two years, triggered when the Knesset failed to approve a state budget by midnight Tuesday and the automatically dissolved.
"Out of a sense of responsibility, I announce that in the upcoming elections I will not lead the Labor Party and I will not be at the top of the list for the Knesset,” wrote Peretz on his Facebook page. "At this time the Labor Party must undergo a renewal and elect a new chair and a new leadership.”
The past decade has seen the once ruling party plummet in popularity and relevance, and it currently has just three members of Knesset - Peretz, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli and MK Merav Michaeli.
Peretz, who recently announced he would run for president to replace Reuven Rivlin in June, said he rejected the possibility of joining Benny Gantz's Blue & White party "out of an understanding that I represent not only myself but an entire movement that contains excellent people and leaders all over the country.”
Under Peretz, Labor's reputation suffered a devastating hit, joining forces with Orly Levi-Abekasis’ struggling Gesher party, only to have her bolt to join the Likud's right-wing bloc once the March 2020 elections were over.
Peretz also vowed that Labor would not join a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, only to later do so with himself and Shmuli as ministers. Michaeli refused to join the government and effectively became a member of the opposition.
"I did everything I could in previous election campaigns to bring about a change of government. But when Benny Gantz made a brave decision during a global crisis to form a rotation government, I decided to support this move,” Peretz said.
“We chose a compromise born out of a sober view of the condition of the country, the state of Israeli society and a political reality.”
Several leading politicians have already been mentioned as likely candidates to replace Peretz, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who is currently a member of Blue & White, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah.
Following the announcement by Peretz, Michaeli called for Labor members to decide the next leader despite a decision that the party's ruling body would make that choice.
“Finally, primaries among the party members, now!” wrote Michaeli on Facebook.
“The Labor Party is not [Peretz’s] private property and he has no right to 'bequeath' it to anyone… He needs to back down from the dictatorial decision to cancel the primaries and hold them for the party's members - immediately."