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Since becoming chairman of the Labor Party in November, former Histadrut labor federation head Amir Peretz has reversed the work done during the 1990s to separate the trade union from the party, Meretz Party Chairman Yossi Beilin charged during a recent interview with Haaretz.

"I was one of the people who put Amir Peretz forward in 1994 as Histadrut chairman," Beilin said. "Our goal was to separate the party from the union. But he did exactly what all the people we fought against did: He used the Histadrut to realize his own political ends - with an iron hand he took people from other parties and told them they'd be fired if they didn't come over to One Nation, his party."

Beilin also criticized Peretz for acting against workers' interests in the Knesset. "As justice minister I tried to rescind the State of Emergency, but Peretz opposed it because it was tied to legislation prohibiting strikes of essential services."

"People don't know exactly what Peretz thinks about social-welfare issues. He's a populist leader and because of that he needs Avishay Braverman standing next to him to explain that he's not a Communist," he said.

Beilin is attempting to maneuver Meretz into the vacuum left behind by Shinui and to appeal to the middle classes on socioeconomic issues.

"My approach," Beilin said, "is the meeting place between socialism and liberalism: responsibility of the state for the individual in areas such as pensions, housing and education, combined with preserving the principles of personal freedom and of putting people at the center."

"I believe in the welfare state, but on the other hand I am not rabidly anti-privatization, I am for increasing the minimum wage by 15 percent. In my opinion, any enterprise that cannot pay these wages has no right to exist," Beilin continued.

He said the security budget could be cut by a few billion shekels. "On the battlefield of the future, you don't need so many tanks, and there are other systems - even aircraft - that can be reduced. It's not that I am less concerned about the security of the country than anyone else, it's hard to compete with Meretz on that front."