The incident in Gaza Friday in which seven innocent Palestinians were killed makes the criticism from the Labor Party "rebels" of Amir Peretz seem laughable: they are attacking his handling of insignificant party matters while ignoring his embarrassing performance as minister of defense.
From the beginning, MK Avishay Braverman and his colleagues put themselves in an awkward position: either they were not telling the truth about Peretz before the election - or they are not calling a spade a spade now. There is no other explanation for the gap between the complimentary image they created for the party chairman three months ago and the ugly face they ascribe to him now.
One's memory rings with the voices of the rebels, in particular those of Braverman and of Ami Ayalon, heaping praise upon Peretz comparable only with the way that Shas Party hacks describe Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Braverman called Peretz a courageous man, comparing him to Tony Blair. Ayalon declared that Peretz was more suitable to be prime minister than either Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu and recognized in Peretz a rare ability to withstand high-pressure situations. The effusive praise was occasioned not only by their gratefulness to Peretz for having given them the opportunity to be appointed to senior positions within the party, but also by the desire to defend him against criticism of the mistakes he made after winning the vote for party chair (such as the hallucinatory speech he made at the rally in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, or his clumsy effort to create an alternative coalition).
Now they are challenging him. Braverman was quoted in the weekend papers as having called Peretz "Napoleon, control-freak, egomaniac" and as having accused him of disloyalty. At the party meeting last Thursday, the usually restrained Matan Vilnai chose some juicy expressions to describe his displeasure with the Labor chairman's behavior. Ayalon also gave Peretz a tongue-lashing, though in a more polite manner. The general impression is that Labor's hired guns are fed up with their designated role of providing cover for Peretz and are now tearing off his camouflage to reveal his true face.
The complaints of the rebels about the way Peretz is running the party, however, are of secondary importance to his performance in the Defense Ministry. He is responsible for handling the most sensitive and potentially explosive matters of state; reservations about his discharge of his duties are mounting daily, but about this critical area the rebels are silent. Military policy toward the Palestinians has not changed since Peretz took office, and the dimensions of the armed struggle have not been reduced or shifted despite his election-night promises; he has continued the same policy of assassinations, arrests, artillery fire in response to Qassam rockets and arrest operations within the West Bank.
Peretz boasts of his initiatives - renewing the talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the opening of the Karni crossing, reduction of the closures, the permit to transfer ammunition to the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority Chairmain Abbas - and is angry when they are not attributed to him, but they are negligible against the larger picture of reciprocal deadly violence that is only growing in ferocity.
Peretz comes across as someone who is following the orders of the chief of staff rather than putting his own stamp on issuing operational orders to the Israel Defense Forces: he is not implementing the lesson, whose value has been confirmed, that the more Israel escalates its military operations, the more it exposes itself to suicide attacks.
The criticism of Braverman, Ayalon and their colleagues would make sense had they made it clear to Peretz that his performance in the Defense Ministry proves the right's claim that the conflict with the Palestinians is not given to solution, and that it must be handled mainly with the force of arms. Defense Minister Amir Peretz is liable to contradict the view of Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz (and the entire leftist camp), according to which a different security policy could reduce the level of conflict en route to solving it.
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