labor vote 298.88.
(photo credit: Roni Schutzer)
Defense Minister Amir Peretz and his incoming deputy minister, Ephraim Sneh, warned incoming deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday that they would not allow him access to the IDF despite his new authority over strategy for the Iranian threat.
The cabinet and the Knesset are expected to easily approve the addition of Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party to the coalition on Monday after the Labor central committee decided to keep Labor in the government. All eyes Monday will be on Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines to see whether he will resign to protest the vote.
In a stormy meeting at Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama Hotel, Peretz and Sneh said they favored remaining in the government with Lieberman, but they made clear that they would not allow him to encroach on their turf.
"Lieberman will not have a foothold in the Defense Ministry," Peretz told the hundreds of activists in the crowd. "I will not allow him to endanger our soldiers. I won't let the Iranian threat become a political issue."
Sneh told The Jerusalem Post after the vote that "only one minister is in charge of responding to the Iranian threat, and that's the defense minister."
Lieberman responded that "actions would prove otherwise." He called Labor's decision "an internal Labor matter," while another Israel Beiteinu source said he wished Labor would have left the coalition.
Peretz called the central committee's vote in favor of remaining in the government "a vote of confidence in me and the Labor cabinet ministers." Asked whether he thought Paz-Pines would quit the cabinet, Peretz answered in the affirmative, saying: "I believe his heart and his mouth are in the same place."
A spokesman for Paz-Pines said he would not announce his future or reveal how he would vote in the cabinet and Knesset until Monday. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called upon him to remain in the cabinet, but Paz-Pines gave every indication in his speech that he had one foot outside the door.
"[Labor] has been lost before my eyes because of the political deal-making and zigzags and the lack of leadership," he said in an emotional and powerful speech. "I am here to warn that accepting Lieberman in the government is one mistake too many. This is the moment of truth and a time for soul-searching. What did we mean when we said we would join the government but not at any price, if not for this moment?"
Paz-Pines scoffed at Labor officials who were already talking about the possibility of replacing him in the cabinet with an Arab minister, such as MK Ghaleb Majadleh.
"They say they want to appoint an Arab minister to make the abomination kosher," he said. "I say, let's end this cynicism. Let's prove that we are a party with a spine, with responsibility for the country and its values. Let's prove Labor is not lost but alive and breathing."
Peretz responded by mocking Paz-Pines for "saving Israeli culture" in his present role. He said he would welcome a challenge from anyone who intends to run against him whenever the central committee decides the Labor leadership primary should take place.
"In a democracy, when a decision is made, you have to accept it," Peretz said in a lengthy address. "Only [in Labor] has it been different. This must change."
A group of activists from Labor's young guard disrupted speeches by shouting at ministers to quit the government and blowing whistles. Fights broke out several times between the young activists and proponents of remaining in the government, but when Peretz spoke, the crowd was silent. The young guard failed to persuade Labor's internal appeals court to force a secret ballot vote.
Rubik Danielovich, a former member of the young guard who is now deputy mayor of Beersheba, briefly stole the show when he called upon Peretz to leave the Defense Ministry and take a socioeconomic portfolio.
MK Ami Ayalon, who is the front-runner to replace Peretz as Labor chairman and in the Defense Ministry, defended Peretz's decision to remain in the government. He said only by staying in the coalition could Labor help bring about a diplomatic process, remove illegal outposts, start compensating West Bank settlers to leave their homes and expedite the building of the security fence.
"I have nothing to gain from remaining in the coalition, but we have to stay, especially if Lieberman joins, so that strategic decisions will still be made by the defense minister and his deputy," Ayalon said. "Rejecting Lieberman and hugging Bibi [Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu] in the opposition would be hypocritical and not in our interest."
MK Avishay Braverman, who also intends to challenge Peretz, turned to him in his speech and said: "Amir, open your eyes and see that the party is selfdestructing under your leadership. If we don't make an urgent U-turn, our party will become irrelevant and no longer a ruling party."
Labor MK Nadia Hilu, an Israeli Arab, said she was disappointed that Labor didn't stand up for the Arab minority by refusing to sit with Lieberman, who favors exchanging some Israeli Arab towns for settlements in a future agreement with the Palestinians.
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima) said Labor made the right decision and praised it for "putting politics aside for the good of the country."
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said Labor's historic role had ended because of the vote and it could no longer claim to represent advocates of peace and social justice. He said the vote "proved that Labor would hold on to power at any price, even the price of betraying a decision it made to its voters during the election campaign."
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.