Peretz's Speech / Even the Swan Song Is Out of Tune

Defense Minister Amir Peretz delivered the right speech last night, only it came eight months too late. Had he resigned following last summer's failed war, thus demonstrating his ability to make personal sacrifices, he would have come out the stronger for it. He would have improved his chances of getting reelected.

In yesterday's speech, Peretz was speaking from the depths of a political abyss, with all the polls indicating that a humiliating defeat was in store for him. This caused his statements to appear hollow. His speech did not even deserve the label of being called spin. It was clearly and obviously a symptom of primaries fever in Labor and grew from discussions in Peretz's chambers over recent weeks.

The speech represented a desperate, perhaps final, attempt to bring Peretz back into the group photo of contenders, as if to tell the voters: "Forget Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon, forget the Defense Ministry: We're this close to landing the treasury!"

Peretz relinquished what he knew was no longer his. His days at the Defense Ministry are numbered. Even if - by some miracle - he wins the Labor primaries on May 28, he will not occupy his current post for much longer.

He will not remain there, because he is out of his element. He is not comfortable there, a place where he is looked down upon, and he is not genuinely interested in the materials that some of his colleagues would kill to be dealing with. He will not remain in office because even if he wins, Labor would split into two camps. It would then become a marginal political movement, undeserving of the Defense Ministry.

Peretz is not the only candidate making use of this ministry for political gain in the primaries. He is joined by Ehud Barak. Except Barak says he is so concerned with the security of Israel that he is willing to serve as defense minister in Olmert's cabinet, despite the ministry's dire condition. Peretz has gone the other way: yesterday, he said the Defense Ministry is of no special interest to him, just a station on his way until Olmert hands him the treasury. And what if Olmert decides against the appointment, as he has in the past?

Peretz's speech is inextricably tied to the upcoming report of the Winograd Committee. Peretz is signaling not only his backers, but also his critics, telling them they can lay off: He will not be occupying the Defense Ministry two months from now anyway. How does that sit with Peretz's repeated statements in recent months that he was better at his job than his predecessors? He said he had had to contend with unfortunate inheritances from generals such as Barak, former chief-of-staff Shaul Mofaz and Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer.

He has declared the Defense Ministry was in desperate need of civilian leadership and spirit. If all that is true, then why is he volunteering to relinquish this asset?

Let's examine his statement. We will find that he is not giving up - not really. He did not say that he was planning to resign from his post after the primaries. He said he would demand Olmert hand him the treasury, as he did last year. Big deal.

Last week Labor members were queried in a telephone survey prepared by one of the leading pollsters. Most of the questions pertained to one specific issue: What does Amir Peretz need to do to improve his chances of getting reelected? The results were never published in the media, so it is safe to assume the poll was commissioned by one of the candidates.

It is intriguing to know which candidate exactly. It would be interesting to know the answer those surveyed gave to one question in particular: Should Amir Peretz resign from the Defense Ministry?