amir peretz 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amir Peretz told his Labor Party colleagues Tuesday that he had kept his first meeting with Ehud Olmert secret to test the other side's sincerity.
"If it would have leaked, I would have understood that it's all a waste of time and that we're in for four years of spin and no real action," he said.
But if Peretz's conduct over the last three days, especially his explanations for his aboutface, are anything to go by, he's just as addicted to spin as the worst of them and is willing to sell the public any story, just not to lose face.
Peretz is now claiming that while the political scene was in turmoil over Labor's attempt to form an "Olmertbypassing, emergency social coalition" with the rightwing, he was actually holding clandestine negotiations with Olmert over his party's senior partner status.
The Labor MKs' skeptical faces said it all. Peretz has theatrical qualities, but is he that great an actor? And what was the point - does he think that anyone believes that he was willing to humiliate himself and his party in an unholy alliance with parties of opposite persuasion, just to hide negotiations that should have been going on anyway?
And Peretz wasn't keeping mum himself. On Monday, he was briefing reporters off the record, complaining about the way he was being treated by Olmert. How does that line up with the next day's version of friendly meetings? It doesn't. But Peretz isn't the kind of guy who can admit he made a mistake and carry on; he has an excuse ready for every occasion. But this latest spin might prove one too many.
Olmert, magnanimous in victory, went along with Peretz's version of events, invited him to a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, and announced that Labor would be the senior partner in his government. All this before President Moshe Katsav has even officially announced that Olmert will be forming the coalition.
Some of Olmert's colleagues thought they shouldn't be offering Peretz a ladder to get down from the tree so easily, and it would have done him no harm to sweat a few days longer. But Olmert gained a chastened and grateful Peretz, and he has already received one significant concession - Labor has agreed to relinquish its demand for the Finance Ministry, which it wanted to implement its radical plans for social change.
The fact that Peretz will probably receive the prestigious Defense portfolio instead is of little comfort. Military affairs don't really interest the Labor leader and they're not his strong suit. He could disappear in the Defense Ministry, outshone by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. And most national security decisions are made by the prime minister anyway.
Peretz's hope is that the post will enhance his public leadership credentials, but it could well prove to be a poisoned chalice. And besides, he'll find it a lot harder to spin away any fiascos in that field, as he'll find the IDF's top brass a lot less forgiving than the Labor Knesset faction.
Olmert should have been a bit chastened himself by having to give up such a major ministry, but from a political perspective, it was the best possible deal he could have made. By keeping Finance, not only has he blocked Peretz's ambitions, he will also be able to give the job to a confidant, most likely his old ally Avraham Hirchson, enabling him to remain overall economics czar.
Peretz in Defense also means that Olmert will have a staunch supporter of West Bank pullbacks in charge of preparation and implementation.
Current Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz will have to pay the price for not joining the Kadima bandwagon immediately after Ariel Sharon invited him to come aboard. Instead, he climbed aboard only after he realized that without a political base in the Likud, he had no chance to beat Binyamin Netanyahu in the primaries. Now that the elections are over, Olmert doesn't even need the ex-chief of General Staff for campaigning. Mofaz can count himself lucky if he gets a junior ministry.