Peretz comes under fire in Labor

Defense Minister Amir Peretz came under attack Tuesday from members of his Labor faction on security, diplomatic and socioeconomic matters. Peretz started off the faction meeting by defending his decision to expand IDF operations in Lebanon to the Litani River. He said that the international community and diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in the United Nations would not interfere with the IDF's efforts to restore calm to the North. Labor MK Danny Yatom, a bitter rival of Peretz's, responded that sending ground forces that far into Lebanon would be a mistake. MKs Colette Avital, Shelley Yacimovich, Avishay Braverman and Orit Noked then complained that Peretz, who called himself a "socioeconomic general" during the political campaign, had been neglecting such issues since he started spending time with real generals. "Amir inherited a tough situation," Avital said. "It's not his fault that the army and the government didn't prepare properly for the war, even while Hizbullah was amassing 11,000 rockets on the border. But it cannot be that there is no government team properly coordinating assistance to the North." Avital said that Labor should insist on the appointment of a welfare minister, a position that has been held temporarily by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert awaiting the completion of unhurried coalition talks with United Torah Judaism. She said that government-funded social workers fled the North, leaving no one but volunteers to help people in shelters. Turning to diplomatic issues, Avital called upon Peretz to appoint a diplomatic task force to decide Labor's position on Olmert's realignment plan. She said Peretz should demand that talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas begin immediately to strengthen the relatively moderate Palestinian leader in the face of growing support on the Palestinian street for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. "The events of the last year have proven that unilateral withdrawals are wrong," Avital said. "I'm against more unilateral withdrawals without an agreement. The emphasis on the North could allow back channel talks with moderate Palestinians to succeed." Braverman backed up Avital, saying that the government failed to help the citizens of the North before and during the war. He said there was not enough food being supplied to northerners in shelters. Yacimovich said Labor should oppose the Finance Ministry's plans to cut funding from government ministries to fund the IDF's operations. Peretz agreed that citizens needed to be helped more effectively and said that appointing a Labor diplomatic team was a good idea, but he didn't say that he would form such a team.