PM may be stuck with Peretz 'til May

Defense minister's office rules out idea of Peretz accepting Finance portfolio.

peretz profile walking g (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz profile walking g
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz may have to continue working together until at least the May Labor leadership primary, after Olmert failed to pressure Peretz to leave the ministry for a socioeconomic portfolio, a source close to Olmert said on Thursday. Olmert had hoped to rid himself of Peretz by taking advantage of the controversy over the defense minister's secret conversation with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But Olmert decided against firing him and instead tried to indirectly pressure Peretz to leave via public pressure and the persuasion of Labor Party leaders. But the Labor leaders and a series of political deals offered to Peretz all failed to convince him to give up the ministry. According to one such deal, the primary would be delayed until just ahead of the next general election in return for Peretz abdicating the Defense portfolio in favor of former prime minister Ehud Barak and receiving Vice Premier Shimon Peres's ministry if he becomes president. Peretz denounced all the deal-making and vowed to remain defense minister in a meeting of the Labor Executive Committee at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters, where a December 17 date was set for a vote on setting May 1 as the date for the primary. "I invite everyone who wants to run for party leader to do so," Peretz told the crowd. "No one needs to make deals with anyone. Whoever wants authority in the party should run. Whoever thinks they can win with tricks, I say, I was chosen by you and I will continue to serve you. Labor will not remain in the government without a senior position and that position will continue to be the Defense portfolio." Peretz lashed out at Barak for being responsible for many of the current security problems by withdrawing unilaterally from Lebanon. "When I hear about the list of candidates for defense minister, I am amazed," Peretz said. "The candidates in that list are the ones who should be held accountable for their policies of closing their eyes. I helped Israel wake up. I will repair the IDF faithfully and no one will stop me." A source close to Peretz said the only position he would leave the Defense Ministry for would be the Finance portfolio, but Peretz's office issued a statement ruling out the idea. Rejecting the latest political deals in the headlines, Peretz said, "It looks like there are a bunch of bored friends putting together governments and switching ministers. Did somebody give these people the right?" Referring to Peres, he said that "no one will decide for us that we have to support a presidential candidate from another party," and that Labor would support the candidacy of its own candidate, MK Colette Avital. In comments aimed at the Prime Minister's Office, Peretz said that "the mudslinging campaign against me is hurting the national morale" and that if Abbas should call him, he "won't hang up the phone on the chairman of the PA if [talking to him] could bring hope for peace." Peretz and Olmert met Thursday for routine security consultations that were described by both sides as courteous, positive and completely professional. They agreed to meet in upcoming days to discuss their political dispute. At the beginning of the meeting, Olmert tried to break the ice and praised Peretz's son who was drafted into the IDF Thursday morning. "Please tell him good luck and a pleasant service," Olmert said.