Q&A with Amir Peretz

peretz good pic 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
peretz good pic 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Shmuel Blitz, Hashmonaim, Israel: The concept of a $1000 monthly minimum wage sounds very good. But who is supposed to foot the bill, the companies or the government? If it is the government, where are they getting the money, and if it is the companies, where are they getting the money? Amir Peretz: The idea behind raising the minimum wage to $1,000 is that by raising minimum wage we'll raise buying power, thereby generating economic growth and prosperity for members of all economic levels. At the end of the process, governmental involvement will not be needed to subsidize the increased minimum wage. Despite this, the government will have to help business owners during the transitional stages until the market fully adapts. Therefore, we'll raise the minimum wage responsibly without harming employment by using a gradual and consensual process and the available governmental mechanisms. The process will be accompanied by a team of experts who will assess the results at each phase of increasing the minimum wage. The government will allot resources to help the employment-rich sectors of the market. By doing so, technological upgrade assistance and tax breaks will be included in the process during its transitional first three years. It's important to emphasize again that the process will be carried out through government funding, in order not to hurt business owners during the market's adaptation period to the new minimum wage. Faisal Haddad, Vancouver, Canada: I was wondeing if the West Bank fence route is one which interests the Labor party as a future border as well? Peretz: The security fence is a protective necessity in order to ensure the safety of the citizens of the State of Israel. Permanent borders will be established through negotiations with moderate elements within the Palestinian Authority. Barad Martav, Chicago, USA: Mr. Chairman, I was present at the AIPAC policy conferance while you were making such an informative adress to the audience via satelite. I first want to say what a privelege it was to hear your presentation. My question to you are: what are the chances of the Labor party beating Kadima in the elections? And is a coalition between Labor and Kadima a reality in the forseeble future. Peretz: I thank you for your generous words. I cannot rule out any party that would agree to the basic lines of the government I will set up and join the correct path. It is a path that will proudly wave two flags together - not at the expense of each other - the flag of diplomacy and security alongside the socioeconomic flag. John Kennedy, London, England: Do you think there are lessons Israel can learn from Ireland's economic success? Peretz: Indeed, we view Ireland as a model from which we can learn a great deal, in relation to upgrading workers' rights and welfare rights, as well as in the attempt to reach national agreement between all sectors of the economy: the government, the employers, the unions, and social groups. Our idea is to establish a national council for society and economy, according to the Irish model, that would help Israel mimic the Irish economy. Claude Franklin, Portland, USA: How much of east Jerusalem and adjacent villages do you plan to transfer to the PA? Any future borders of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel, must ensure that the city has a Jewish majority and character. I will strive to retain its international recognition and by no means will I give up sovereignty in Jewish holy sites. David Blake, Royal Oak, USA: I have been enthusiastic about your campain and believe that for the first time in a long time Labor has a genuine advocate for the working class. I was disappointed, however, to discover that you supported privatization in Israel. Can you please clarify? Peretz: I believe in a free market and competitive economy, but I am also aware of its faults and injustices. The state is responsible for providing adequate public services for its citizens. Therefore, I will not allow the privatization of some services, such as health and education. So, on the one hand, we support a competitive economy based on the Western standard, while on the other hand, we will take care of the citizens, from daycare through basic education, from higher education and employment at an adequate wage, to proper health care and senior citizen life. Isaac Neger, Baltimore, USA: In the last Knesset our nation's history and traditions were trampled upon by Likud and Shinui. the ministry of religion was dismanteled and funds for religious education were all but cancelled. What are your policies, if any, regarding these issues? Peretz: I will support Jewish education for all sectors of society in the spirit of pluralism and out of the respect the Jewish tradition deserves. Eitan Barzeli, Kfar Saba, Israel: Mr. Peretz, why do you think there has not been a Sephardic prime minister as of yet in our great country? Peretz: The mere fact that you asked this question demonstrates, unfortunately, that the problem of the "race card" is still here. I have no intention to lend it a helping hand. I am not interested in the candidates' ethnic origins. Instead, we must deal with the issues at hand: building a strong society, in which all sectors of society enjoy the fruits of its success, while preserving the safety and security of its citizens. These are things I deal with on a daily basis. Lionel Harkham, Tel Aviv, Israel: What is the solution for the Kassam missile problem, and how is the government going to stop this threat from spreading to Judea and Shomron? Peretz: There must be a distinction between the two parts of the question. First, I would like to stress that our security services are doing a good job. They operate tirelessly to curb the firings of Kassam rockets. However, it is not enough. The first Kassam rocket was fired over three years ago. This can be prevented, but it involves a number of aspects aside from the military one. The answer lies within the need for a diplomatic solution. We must understand that the Palestinian population is interested in peace and prosperity, like all citizens of the world, and is the one that suffers the most from the current situation. From this perspective, we will act to strengthen the moderate elements in Palestinian society, namely PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. It has already been proven on a number of occasions that PA forces have the capability to prevent the firing of Kassams, if a public atmosphere allows it. Therefore, we need to help them create that atmosphere. Meanwhile, we will invest in upgrading the infrastructure of our communities around Gaza, to ensure that they are properly protected. Regarding the second part of the question, we must remember that when the IDF maintained a presence in Gaza, the firing of Kassams persisted nonetheless. We can prevent the passage of Kassam rockets from Gaza to the West Bank, but we cannot prevent an independent development of rockets there. This only illustrates the need for a diplomatic solution, as I mentioned before. Larry Derfner, Modi'in, Israel: Did you agree with Israel's targeted assassination of Palestinian leaders such as Sheikh Yassin, his successor Rantisi, and did you agree with the house arrest of Arafat in the Mukata? Peretz: We must fight against terrorism with resolve. Targeted assassinations are an operational necessity in which the state of Israel targets "ticking bombs" who were in the process of perpetrating acts of terrorism against the citizens of Israel or members of its security forces. Anyone who is involved in terrorism should know that he could be targeted. There is no point in turning the issue at large to a political matter on the eve of elections. There is also no reason to dwell on the past with regard to Arafat. We must look to the future to create a moderate element in the PA, and by doing that, weaken the rule of Hamas. Shlomo Reiss, Jerusalem, Israel: Do you think that Israel and / or the USA should take military action to stop the nuclear program in Iran? Peretz: It would be wise to maintain silence on certain issues. These discussions should be held behind closed doors, not in public. I will say, however, that the State of Israel will know how to defend itself against any threat.