Amir PeretzAmir Peretz won a stunning victory over his opponent Shimon Peres in the race to lead Israel’s Labor party-a vote that will most probably bring down Prime Minister Sharon’s shaky coalition, resulting in early elections.

The dramatic upset changed Israel’s political landscape, with Peretz, a Moroccan immigrant whose father worked in a Kibbutz factory, taking over the Labor, a fortress of Israel’s Eastern European elite. “This is the moment we bury the ethnic demon in Israel” Peretz declared in his victory speech. Peres led the Labor party into the Government this year to build the support for Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal, the pullout divided Sharon’s Likud party, and without Labor’s support, the plan could not have been carried out.
The upset victory for Peretz, known nationally for his union activism, is not expected to transform the Labor’s political future, and Labor leaders believe they are in no position to unseat Sharon. Politicians and journalists compare the upset victory as Israel’s biggest political upheaval since 1977, when Labor first lost power after 29 years of unchallenged rule.

Peretz discussed his plan to pull out from the coalition, and make the Labor party an alternative that will return to power in the next elections. Peretz is likely to encounter stiff opposition from Peres and other high ranking Labor officials over his plan to quit the coalition. Eight senior members, including Peres, would have to step down from “lucrative” positions of government Ministers, and they will most probably try to block their new party leader.

The defeat was a major embarrassment for the 82-year-old Peres, who enjoyed a considerable lead in opinion polls, while Peres, a Nobel peace Prize recipient is revered abroad, he has trouble connecting with Israeli voters and failed in five previous elections for Prime minister.