Peretz denies rift with Olmert

Respective camps of both leaders claim credit for securing the cease-fire.

peretz gestures 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz gestures 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Monday denied claims of a rift between him and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding the cease-fire agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In an interview with Army Radio, Peretz added that although he had no intention of giving up the Defense Ministry, he had wanted the Finance portfolio from the outset but took on the Defense portfolio out of a sense that he had a mission to fulfill. On Sunday it was reported that Olmert and Peretz fought over credit for the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, and that the two continued their feud with mutual recriminations. Peretz's associates said Olmert should thank his defense minister for his conversation with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas last Sunday that sparked the high-profile battle between them. "The entire country, especially the prime minister, should thank the defense minister for his efforts," said Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano, a Peretz loyalist. "What people thought was a joke ended up leading to a cease-fire that was the fruit of his labor. Everyone who made fun of him last week should call Amir Peretz and say, 'I was mistaken, I am sorry.'" Marciano said Peretz risked his reputation, subjected himself to character assassination and nearly lost his job, but it would all be worth it if he succeeded in bringing security to his neighbors in Sderot. "Olmert should tip his hat to Peretz" and the prime minister should also have to "eat his hat," he said. Peretz said in a speech in Rahat on Sunday that the "cease-fire did not come out of nowhere," suggesting that "it was the product of constant military pressure." Olmert, however, claimed credit for himself, suggesting in a speech at the same event that it came about due to his talk with Abbas on Saturday night and "weeks of constant contacts" between his office and Abbas's that he said "established understandings." Olmert's associates said that if anything, Peretz's conversation with Abbas interfered with the progress made in a string of meetings between Olmert's aides, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman, with Abbas's aides, Saeb Erekat and Rafik Husseini, as well as secret Israeli-Palestinian security meetings. "The prime minister and the Palestinians agree that the cease-fire came about because of the talks initiated by Ehud Olmert," a source close to Olmert said. "I don't think Peretz harmed the country, but he acted contrary to his authority. Ministers have to do what the prime minister says even if they have the best intentions and even if the results are good." Peretz's associates said the next battle between Olmert and Peretz would be fought over the vacant Social Affairs portfolio that Peretz is demanding for Labor. Olmert has made a commitment to Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri of Kadima that he will receive the portfolio if United Torah Judaism does not join the coalition. In what might be bad news for Olmert, the Labor Party's house subcommittee decided on Sunday to recommend that the Labor primary be held as late as early June and not May 1 as had been talked about last week. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who chaired the meeting, said he believed the election should be held on March 13. The Labor central committee will meet on December 17 to set a final date for the primary, which would bring about the departure of Peretz from the Defense Ministry if he loses.