Ayalon and Paz-Pines call on Labor to bolt gov't over Hebron

Labor leadership candidates Ami Ayalon and Ophir Paz-Pines on Thursday called on Defense Minister Amir Peretz to remove the party from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition if the cabinet allows settlers to remain in a contentious Hebron house. Peretz's decision to remove the settlers from the house is expected to be raised in a cabinet meeting on Sunday. A majority of the cabinet would oppose removing the settlers even if every Labor minister votes to evacuate the house. "I hope the government makes the right decisions," said Ayalon, the front-running candidate in the polls. "This issue raises questions about what we are doing in the government and what our red lines are." Paz-Pines went further, criticizing Peretz for not taking action sooner to remove the settlers. He said Peretz's hesitation and the makeup of the cabinet would make it harder to evacuate the house. "Unfortunately we are in a government that supports the settlements, that is in favor of settling Hebron and that has a majority for letting the people stay in the house," Paz-Pines said. "This proves we are spare change in the government. There are ministers dressed as Kadima but they are still in the Likud and they are cooperating with [Binyamin] Netanyahu." Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who supports former prime minister Ehud Barak in the race, responded that not a single house was built in the West Bank since the government was formed. The faction decided to endorse Peretz's effort to evacuate the house. Peretz lashed out at critics who accused him of evacuating the house for political reasons. "Any attempt to paint this decision as political should stop," Peretz said. "We can't close down the Defense Ministry just because political events take place in the State of Israel." The faction also discussed the Saudi peace plan. Ayalon accused the government of "lacking a diplomatic compass or clear diplomatic goals." Peretz said he hoped talks with Syria would resume soon. "The Riyadh summit could end up being a turning point for our relations with Arab countries," Peretz said. "I believe the Syrian option should be kept open, despite the data we are receiving on Syria's readiness [for war]. "It would be shortsighted to dismiss the Saudi plan because of the clause on [Palestinian] refugees. This is the right way to break the diplomatic stalemate and move forward."