Olmert concerned 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to delay the evacuation of a contentious Hebron home despite a decision by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to evacuate the settlers, sources who spoke to Olmert said on Wednesday.
Olmert made a point of being silent on the issue on Wednesday to avoid sparking another dispute with Peretz. The official word out of the Prime Minister's Office was that it was a legal issue that had not been presented to Olmert and he had not yet made a decision on the matter.
But ministers and MKs who spoke to Olmert said he opposed evacuating the home at this stage. They hinted that the prime minister would prefer to stall on the issue until after the May 28 Labor primary when Olmert is expected to have an easier defense minister with which to work.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who is the closest minister to Olmert, urged cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon to convene an urgent cabinet meeting to overrule Peretz's decision. Maimon said no decision had been made yet about whether the matter would be on the agenda of next Sunday's meeting.
"The cabinet must decide whether Israelis should be evacuated and with all due respect, the defense minister is not the cabinet," Bar-On said, citing a 1980 cabinet decision on Hebron. "Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has decided there was no reason to evacuate the house. Peretz either misunderstood the attorney-general or deliberately distorted the facts."
Ministers Rafi Eitan (Gil Pensioners) and Yitzhak Aharonovich (Israel Beiteinu) also spoke out against evacuating the house. If the matter does come to a vote on Sunday, a clear majority against the evacuation is expected.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who acts as a liaison between the settlers and the Prime Minister's Office, said he would ask Olmert to fire Peretz if he evacuated the building. He said that former prime minister Ariel Sharon's government decided to take steps to ensure Jewish territorial contiguity between Kiryat Arba and Hebron and the house's location was in line with that decision.
"Peretz is acting out of narrow political considerations," Schneller said. "He is thinking about the Labor primary and not about security. If Olmert and the other ministers want to talk about this issue in the cabinet, how can the defense minister dare decide on his own to evacuate? If this man wasn't defense minister, such issues would be easily resolved."
National Union MK Effi Eitam said Olmert told him two weeks ago that he would prevent Peretz from evacuating the house. He said the issue was "a test of whether Olmert is a real leader or whether Peretz's tail is wagging the entire government."
Peretz responded that he believes the matter is under his authority and jurisdiction. He rejected the notion that he considered the impact of evacuating the house on his chances of winning the primary.
"I have not acted according to political considerations," Peretz told Israel Radio. "There has to be a limit to what people accuse me of. If I didn't want to evacuate the building, people would be accusing me of political considerations, too. I would have made the same decision if the settlers tried to enter the building after the primary."
The Hebron house is expected to be one of the key issues raised when the Labor faction convenes on Thursday evening at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters. The meeting was requested by MK Ami Ayalon to clarify the faction's opinion on the Saudi initiative.
The two front-running candidates in the Labor race, Ayalon and former prime minister Ehud Barak, have declined to voice their opinion on the Hebron issue. Candidate Ophir Paz-Pines criticized Peretz last week for not taking steps to evacuate the house.