Peretz defends focus on economy

Other Labor members voice desire that security issues also be addressed.

peretz makes point 298 (photo credit: AP)
peretz makes point 298
(photo credit: AP)
With his poll numbers shrinking precipitously and division in the ranks of his party, Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz declined to change tacks in his campaign Monday, sticking to the socio-economic agenda he has carved out. Members of Peretz's party have been increasingly vocal - albeit anonymously - about the need to discuss security issues in the campaign as Labor has seen its projected mandates fall from 28 to a recently released figure of 19. Following the legally required regular meeting between the opposition leader and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Peretz told reporters in a press conference at Jerusalem's Knesset Towers hotel that there was broad consensus at the moment on how to conduct the war on terrorism, and also that the public realized a Palestinian state was in the country's best interest. "The real argument is the way Israel reacts to economic issues," he said. "There is one group that is enjoying the economy very much," he added, "but the majority of the country is paying the price of budget cuts and are not enjoying the fruits of the new economy." Peretz's reluctance to speak about security issues has worried many in the Labor Party who fear that, while Israelis may agree with his economic platform, they would be unwilling to elect a leader who did not make national security his primary focus. "There is a need to talk more about what we are suggesting in security and state issues," said Gilad Heymann, the spokesman for Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. "There is a big difference between us and Sharon." Despite the calls from within Labor to hammer out a distinctive position on the peace process and security matters, Peretz spokesman Tom Wagner said the Labor chairman has no plans to change the theme of his campaign. "He won't be talking according to what others want to hear," Wagner said. "He will focus on his agenda, mostly socio-economic issues," he added. Seeking to deflect the internal criticism flung his way in the wake of Labor's decreasing polls, Peretz said that he inherited a party in disarray. "We can't ignore the fact that the former chairman of the party left to join Sharon, but on voting day Israelis will choose the people of Labor," he said. "And when the time comes, traditional Labor voters will stick with the party." During the meeting with Sharon, Peretz said he was briefed on a number of security and foreign affairs issues.