As rumors continued to circulate about growing dissatisfaction in Labor's upper echelons with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz met in Tel Aviv on Thursday in an effort to solve the nation's security problems. At the beginning of the meeting, Olmert tried to break the ice and praised Peretz's son who was drafted into the IDF Thursday morning. "Please tell him good luck and a pleasant service," Olmert said. At the end of the meeting, the two agreed to meet again in order to repair their damaged relationship, Army Radio reported.
Analysis: All quiet with Olmert, Peretz
Sources close to both men said Wednesday the meeting would focus on security issues and be attended by other senior security officials.
However, a spokesman for Olmert's aide said late on Wednesday night that it was unlikely that they would use the occasion to put to rest their weeklong dispute. Peretz irked the prime minister when he spoke with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas behind Olmert's back on Sunday.
Peretz met on Wednesday with Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Education Minister Yuli Tamir and reportedly asked the cabinet members to tell Olmert they would quit their posts if he carried out his threat to fire Peretz.
Persistent reports have mentioned Labor "officials, " most notably Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel, who are working to convince Peretz to step down as defense minister, and take over a social or economic portfolio instead.
But on Wednesday, Tamir broke her silence and told The Jerusalem Post that she believed Peretz should remain defense minister.
"I think no one can be a better defense minister than him under the current circumstances," Tamir said. "I wish it was so easy that they could just bring in someone else who could solve everything. Israel has no answer to its security problems and that's what Amir is frustrated about."
Tamir lashed out at her party's leaders who have not come to Peretz's defense.
"The long tradition in Labor of lopping off the heads of the party chairman hurts the party and everyone slamming him should know it will happen to them if they get elected, too," Tamir said. "A party that cannot back its leader in tough times hurts itself. They should restrain themselves, at least until the primary in May."
Labor's executive committee will meet on Thursday and may decide to hold the party primary on May 2. Leadership candidates Ophir Paz-Pines and Ami Ayalon are leading the initiative in an effort to depose Peretz as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman met publicly in the Knesset on Wednesday. Sources close to both men said they discussed Lieberman's proposal for changing the electoral system.
They denied reports that the two talked about the threat to them posed by the potential entry of Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak into politics.