They are not going down without a fight and they refuse to bow out waving the white flag. The two old wise men of Israeli politics face one more fierce battle each - and whatever happens it probably will not be their last.
Today, Labor party members select a leader to take them into the next election campaign. With the unlikely Binyamin Ben-Eliezer refusing to pull out of the race, we watch with interest as that man Shimon Peres tries to win something - at last. After watching Ehud Barak and Amram Mitzna get bulldozed by Sharon and the Likud, the 82-year old eldest statesman is desperate for one more chance at winning an election. The polls show he might well get that chance, though turn out (as at 4pm) is only about 25% and that is said to favor Amir Peretz who for years has headed the battle for employee and union rights in Israel.
There is a little bit riding on this Labor election. Peres has shown to be quite content to sit in the seats of power even if under the controlling eye of the Likud. He keeps his Volvo (as do his Labor ministerial friends) but they keep a watchful eye on proceedings and have some power to control policy. Today's suggestion that Peres might pull Labor from the coalition sounds very much like inner-party campaigning more than anything of substance.
With their continuation in the Government after Disengagement, there has come some criticism from those like Amir Peretz who claim that Labor has simply become a mistress to the Likud. Peretz believes that Labor should be in the opposition and behave as such. They should not be helping the Likud stay in power but challenging from the opposite side of the Knesset debating chamber. Good point that but a little project called Disengagement has held priority till now and Labor ministers can not be too upset with the ever-developing change in Sharon's attitude to occupation.
But stop for a second. Let's face facts. Peres believes he has the team to win the next election. He might well have the team but frankly I don't think he has the electorate nor the environment to make it a reality.
The Israeli electorate has swung to the right over the five years of Palestinian violence and recent polls see no indications of optimism for quieter times ahead. Disengagement, as I have said previously, is not an indication of a sudden swing to the left. Gaza is a very different deal than the West Bank, Jerusalem and the like and this would be reflected in future election results, negotiations or unilateral decisions made by Israel. Equally, there is only a strengthening of terror activity in the Palestinian Authority areas - today an admission that shoulder launched missiles have arrived with the potential to strike Israeli aircraft - military and civil.
What's my point? Well, why does Mr. Peres keep on keeping on? Why go through the heartache again? Can anyone really see a Labor victory on the horizon? Is Peres simply hanging on to his dream of a new Middle East? Does he really believe that a Likud split would leave the way open for a Labor revival?
At 82, he's contributed greatly and continuously. Why not bow out with a little honor? At least a significant segment of the country do not trust him and the odds are not in his favor. Haven't you had enough already? Isn't it time for a change? Why not hand the reins over to the younger Laborites?
... ah ha! And there might lie the reason why Peres and good buddy Sharon (in his late 70s) fight on and on and on. Who exactly are the younger folk waiting in line? There does appear to be a massive gaping hole in Israel's political leadership stocks. Who would you recommend?
Since his failure to hold a majority in the Knesset over ministerial appointments on Monday night, the media, commentators and spokespersons have been rolling out every rumor, every theory and every prediction for what the future holds in the Likud. Will Sharon call elections? Will he split and establish a new centrist party? Will he retire to his ranch?
Today's Labor results will probably help Sharon make a few decisions. An Amir Peretz-led coalition party will do nothing for keeping the government together and Sharon is getting tired (politically and physically they say) of the struggle for survival. Still, Arik is determined to be the man who draws Israel's final borders.
He is a master tactician but the strategy might well have been lost on too many of those around him.