Peres Waiting in the Wings

After appointing a chief of staff, who will likely remain in office a few years after they have already become history, Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz must appoint a president, who, barring a miracle, will not be inviting either one of them to the President's Residence when he is asked to entrust an MK with forming a government. The senior members of the coalition are even turning this fight over the position, which is almost devoid of content, into a battle over prestige, with all the characteristics of petty politics. There is no sign of a Kaplinsky on the horizon, who will leave them with one consensus default candidate.

Had Moshe Katsav followed in Dan Halutz's footsteps and resigned overnight, he could have spared the politicians many months of headaches. Even if 90 MKs show the president the way out, the matter can only be finalized in 45 days (as stipulated by the Basic Law on the President, in the event the President's Office is vacated before the end of his term). Such a process would also have shortened Dalia Itzik's time in the President's Residence and would have reduced the chances of everyone getting used to having a moderate hack sitting on the seat once occupied by Chaim Herzog.

Temporary incapacitation will drag out the death pangs of the institution of the presidency until the end of the seven bad years, and will also delay the race for the questionable pleasure of rebuilding the president's stature. As in the Olympics, here, too, before the final, there are "preliminary heats." At this stage, Olmert and Peretz are expected to compete in the process of amending the clause that relates to selecting a president in the Knesset plenum. In effect, this change - making the vote an open one - is intended to pave the way for Shimon Peres to become president. Kadima's candidate has learned a lesson from his searing loss to Katsav six and half years ago. MKs can swear on their mothers' souls that even if their lives depended on it, they would not vote for any other candidate; Peres wants to look at the former Likud members now in Kadima, such as Shaul Mofaz and Ruhama Avraham, and hear them say out loud "Peres," and not "Rivlin," when the Knesset speaker asks for their vote.

Associates of the oldest MK and Nobel Peace Prize laureate are trying to convince him that if Olmert does not manage (does not try?) to pass the amendment, the prime minister will be left with Rivlin on the right, Colette Avital on the left and Rabbi Lau from the religious sector. Among these Peres associates are Ariel Sharon's two mega-PR people, Reuven Adler and Eyal Arad, from the "ranch forum." Businessman Arnon Milchan is involved from a distance. This week he phoned from South Africa and spoke to several MKs in order to persuade them to support the amendment. According to the prevailing mood in the Knesset, opponents of the amendment (including MKs from the left) prefer Rivlin or Avital, or simply hold a grudge, or two, against Peres. Breaking a promise to this MK and turning one's back on another MK.

Shimon (I'm not involved in this) Peres recently told friends that regardless of whether the ballot remains secret, he is determined to run. "What's the matter? In the worst case," so Peres said, "I'll lose the race. In any case they already say I'm a loser." He was also heard saying: "It won't be my loss, but that of the Jewish people." He is gambling on the fact that in the second, or third, round against Rivlin, the Labor MKs and the Arab MKs, all those who will vote for their friend Avital the first time around, will prefer the architect of Oslo to Rivlin, who accompanied Sharon on his visit to the Temple Mount, the visit that buried Oslo.

After all, when these two are at the starting mark, Peretz will have to decide what is more important to him - fighting with the guard or eating the grapes. In other words: Giving up the opportunity to humiliate the prime minister or turning the President's Residence into a guest house for residents of the territories. And most importantly - Peretz, like all the other contenders in the upcoming primaries, will have to take into account that Peres still has quite a few fans left among Labor MKs, primarily among the party's veterans.

Waiting for Ashkenazi

As expected, the storm over Yifat Alkobi's outbursts in Hebron has made way for other items: the chief of staff's resignation, the selection of a new chief of staff, the indictment of the president and the selection of a new president. As far as Hebron's residents are concerned, a chief of staff comes and a chief of staff goes, a president comes and a president goes. Alkobi remains. And so does Baruch Marzel. Until now, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who prides himself on the title "the man of peace," could hide behind the questionable excuse offered by his people, that he does not control the chief of staff. His deputy, Efraim Sneh, visited Hebron and complained, as if he were a Peace Now activist, that "the laws of the state are not applied in the city with the appropriate speed, primarily with regard to the Israeli citizens who live there."

"Are not being applied" by whom? Sneh proposed to the ministerial committee formed to deal with violations committed by Israelis in Hebron that it focus on "strengthening the police in Hebron." On the day Sneh visited Hebron and every day since then, the Israel Defense Forces has not only not applied the law in Hebron, the commander of the Hebron Brigade, Colonel Yehuda Fuchs, has instructed his soldiers to violate official orders issued by the commander of IDF forces in Judea and Samaria. Even an order issued by the legal adviser of the Judea and Samaria headquarters is not worth the paper on which it is printed.

As reported here less than a month ago, this legal adviser, Harel Weinberg, wrote the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that "a review conducted by the Judea Brigade found that indeed, erroneously, the passage of Palestinian pedestrians on the Shuhada route, west of Gross Square, was not possible. Currently, a new order has been issued by the brigade's officials, which allows such passage, subject, of course, to a security check."

Human rights activists who visit Hebron on a daily basis relate that the commanders there told them they insist that the ban on the passage of Palestinians on Shuhada street remains in effect, even after the legal adviser's letter. Thus it is a given that the soldiers posted on Shuhada street in Hebron's old city have not heard about the error. They continue to prevent the passage of Palestinians and inform them that this is a "sterile" passage. The residents still have to circle around the entire center of the city. Those who live on the street itself, such as Zahira Kafisha, a very ill woman who requires medical treatment, still have to enter their homes through neighbors' houses, occasionally also climbing on the roofs, on ladders and across balconies.

Attorney Limor Yehuda of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel approached the military judge advocate general with a request to open an inquiry into the matter. She is calling for a review to find out who issued the illegal order ("error"), which has been followed by all the units posted in Hebron for the last six years and has caused severe and direct damage to thousands of people. The IDF Spokesman's Office does not dispute the facts. It made do with a statement that "in the coming days, the IDF will conduct a discussion on the matter of Shuhada Street in Hebron, in which the issue will be reviewed in depth." Six years were not enough for them. The next time there is an incident everyone will wake up again, until the next incident.