If Amir Peretz really wants to generate change, he must demand one portfolio for himself: the defense portfolio. If there is one appointment in the new government that could fire the imagination and herald a societal turning point, it would be this. If the chairman of the Labor Party wants to become a statesman and perhaps also the next leader of Israel, his path must now take him to the Defense Ministry.
While everyone is busy speculating who will be the next finance minister, the truly important appointment in the new government is the person who will lead the Israel Defense Forces and defense establishment. Citizen Peretz at the head of this tarnished militaristic establishment would be the right person in the right place. The time has come for Israel finally to become like most Western countries, where the defense minister is a citizen who did not sprout from within the system, who does not bring with him the dust of the barracks and who does not bear iron ranks on his shoulders.
To command the IDF, a chief of staff is sufficient. And to receive situation assessments, a head of military intelligence and a Shin Bet director are enough. Above them should be a citizen who can balance the enormous and exaggerated power of the security establishment and present different patterns of thinking. Israel needs a defense minister for whom "the only projectile whistling past his ear has been a ping pong ball," as the militaristic MK Danny Yatom once said in belittling Peretz. The ears of those who have heard the whistling of live bullets became deaf long ago, and we need someone with healthy ears to supervise their activity.
As defense minister, Amir Peretz would have the potential to generate a much deeper change than he would as finance minister. Peretz should be tempted not only by the fact that finance ministers usually end their tenure bruised and wounded. He should also realize that if he receives the defense portfolio, he would be able to make more of a long-term impact than with any other portfolio - as someone who paves a new way and changes patterns of thinking.
After concluding the election campaign with quite an impressive success and as someone who is not regarded lightly anymore, Peretz must not take fright from this position, which is ostensibly foreign to him. He must not be intimidated by the security establishment, which will definitely do its utmost to prevent a citizen who was only a junior officer to stand at its head. They will again ridicule him, but Peretz's test will be whether he stands up to this.
One can also recommend to Ehud Olmert, another civilian, that he offer this position to Peretz - not due to coalition constraints, but out of a recognition that Peretz as defense minister could help him to lead a truly civilian coalition.
If Peretz wants with all his might to take care of the weak members of society, he should aspire to this position: the NIS 54 billion allocated each year for defense is crying out for revision. Social salvation could come from a cutback in this budget. If Amir Peretz as defense minister surrenders part of this bloated budget, he might be able to point toward greater social achievements than those he is liable to attain as finance minister.
Most of the IDF's activity in recent years has been directed against the Palestinians in the territories. A general appointed as defense minister has no chance of changing our entrenched patterns of thinking, according to which the only language to be used in the territories is the language of force. A civilian like Peretz could pose questions that no general has yet dared to raise: Why, in fact, are we destroying and killing? And why are we incarcerating an entire people? And how long will this go on? His social sensitivity would be a great asset for the job. He could leave the decisions about the diameter of the artillery cannons aimed against the Palestinians and the type of smart missiles launched to liquidate them to the IDF. He would decide when to use the missiles and cannons, if at all; the one making such decisions should not be a general.
In a true democratic system, someone has to balance and oversee the enormous power that lies in the hands of the defense establishment. And this person must be a civilian. Peretz, who speaks about social compassion, might also direct this same compassion toward the Palestinian population. And precisely in this way is he liable to attain security achievements. Perhaps it will be Peretz who explains to our intelligence experts that the real infrastructure of terror is the occupation and that the only way to overcome terror is to liquidate the occupation. In this way, he would become a new type of "Mr. Security," someone who would bring success in the war against terror and would be much more successful than the glorified militarists who advocate an aggressive policy of "only through power." Peretz can also show the world a new model of Israeli statesman, who understands what the occupation has done to both the occupied and the occupier, and portray Israel as a bit less militaristic and brutal.
In terms of the government's relations with the settlers, Peretz would also be the right person to head the Defense Ministry. In a government determined to put an end to a small part of the settlement enterprise, Peretz could be the one to implement this policy - not only via a future evacuation but immediately, by stopping the scandalous flow of funds to the settlers.
And if all this is not enough, there is also a bonus: The appointment of Peretz would mean removing Shaul Mofaz from the Defense Ministry. That would be the added benefit of this exciting move. We have never had someone more brutal and aggressive than the current defense minister, the father of the assassinations and the siege on the Palestinian people. The culmination of Mofaz's bloody period at the Defense Ministry would only bring good tidings.
"The defense minister, Amir Peretz." Are we ready for this almost fanciful combination of words? Is Peretz bold enough to take up this challenge? And Olmert? It will be the first test for both. In fact, it will be a test for all of us.
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