Peretz Wants It Both Ways

Neither Peretz nor his party's members have the right to wave the flag of cleaning out the security stables with one hand and the social flag with the other, nor are they capable of doing so.

During negotiations over the peace agreement with Egypt, MK Yehuda Ben-Meir stood up before the Knesset one day and voiced his doubts to the legislators: on the one hand, Israel was being offered an opportunity to make peace with its largest and strongest neighbor; on the other hand, it would have to give up the entire Sinai.

Ben-Meir did not make a decision at that moment, satisfied with involving the Knesset in his misgivings. Afterward, then-foreign minister Moshe Dayan got up to speak, and remarked disparagingly: "Happy is the man who is always in doubt." Dayan did not enjoy the luxuries of those allowed to equivocate: He decided in favor of peace with Egypt.

Unlike Dayan in 1978, Defense Minister Amir Peretz wants to enjoy the best of all worlds. On the one hand, Peretz seeks to increase the security budget by NIS 30 billion (!), and on the other hand, when the treasury tries to match the state budget to the special increases caused by the war, the defense minister threatens to cause a coalition crisis.

Peretz represents a group of ministers who have not internalized the import of the war or its immediate lessons. After all, the calamity the war brought to Lebanon was meant, at the very least, to get that country's leaders to ditch their habits and relate more seriously to their public responsibility. If until July 12 they were immersed in a government culture centered around affectation, we expect that from now on they will deal with essential issues. But he who demands a huge sum for security needs, yet does not support the economic steps meant to respond - and not just partly - to his demand, proves that populism is a character trait, not just a style.

Neither Peretz nor his party's members have the right to wave the flag of cleaning out the security stables with one hand and the social flag with the other, nor are they capable of doing so.

Avishay Braverman and Shelly Yachimovich make a joke out of their work when they enthusiastically speak out against cuts to the state budget by arguing that the party is ignoring its promises to the voters by making such cuts. The same goes for Eli Yishai and the leaders of the Pensioners Party. This shouting bunch must decide what it thinks should have priority: rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces or improving the welfare of the weak sectors of the population. They cannot support each one equally.

The leader of Shas sounds absurd when he says that the international credit firms will understand Israel's financial difficulties if it increases the deficit, and Peretz looks pathetic when he talks about creating "new equations," in which the choice will not be between a tank and an elderly person or between a boy and an F-16.

The country is facing a difficult challenge: drawing the right conclusions from the war and ascertaining the appropriate national agenda accordingly. It must decide which is the most pressing threat looming overhead - security, financial-social, governmental, ethical - and allocate the resources based on a hierarchy of importance. Israel must ask itself whether the key to ensuring its existence is to arm itself to the teeth or to reach an arrangement with its neighbors.

The state must correctly identify the security dangers - Iran, the Palestinians, Syria, Hezbollah - and use this to decide how to prepare. If the supreme objective is to strengthen the ability of the IDF, then the state must rationally examine whether the primary means for achieving this goal is by pouring tens of billions of shekels into the security budget. If these are indeed the goal and means, then the state must adjust its coffers to the updated security needs and be prepared to cut resources directed toward funding other services.

In order to successfully weigh the constraints and make the best decisions, a public discourse is necessary, and a responsible and united leadership is essential. The current government is not up to this task. It does not act like a group that has leadership, but like a scampering collection of parties and politicians with sectoral and personal interests. The government expects the public to rally on behalf of the population at large, to yield, but is incapable of extricating itself from the cynical government culture whose serious troubles were exposed on July 12.