The Defense Ministry Has Kidnapped Peretz

On Sunday morning, when all eyes - primarily the eys of the ministers - were on the soldier Gilad Shalit, who had just been kidnapped by Hamas, the cabinet voted to extend the temporary order revising the citizenship law. With the flick of a wrist, the ministers disengaged thousands of Israeli citizens from their spouses.

"It's not so bad," one Labor party minister said yesterday. "All in all it's just a matter of another six months." By that time, an acceptable law will replace the temporary order, he promised.

Only one minister, Labor's Ophir Pines-Paz, did not vote in favor - he abstained. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon also counted Shimon Peres among those abstaining. The vice premier hurried to correct the error. He too was for the extension.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir did not take part in the vote. Unfortunately for her, she says, she had to leave the meeting - there was something urgent regarding the education reforms. Eitan Cabel is doing reserve duty. He says that if he had attended the cabinet meeting, he definitely would have voted against the decision. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Isaac Herzog say this is essentially a temporary measure. No one mentioned the fact that the High Court of Justice approved it by the skin of its teeth - six to five, including President Aharon Barak.

This temporary measure has been going on for four years, but the Labor party leadership did not find the time to discuss the principles of the issue, which affects thousands of men, women and children in Israel who are waiting for their families to be reunited.

The story of the citizenship law is also the story of Amir Peretz. Even though the matter of extending the temporary order was on the meeting agenda sent to all ministers, Labor chair Amir Peretz did not raise it for discussion in his party. Every Friday at 9 A.M., the ministers come to the Labor offices in the Hatikva neighborhood. The matter was not discussed at any of those meetings.

"He is not focused," said one of the ministers, "He's caught up with the Qassams and the chaos in Gaza." And then he added with a smile: "And don't forget that aside from his lack of orientation, he also lacks luck."

Peretz is discovering that so long as there is no movement in the diplomatic sphere, the defense minister is essentially the commander of the southern district firefighting brigade. And if the Palestinian fire were not enough, fellow faction members, such as Matan Vilnai, are adding fuel. And the national commander, Ehud Olmert, is traveling the world, being photographed, delivering speeches and scattering battle cries. More and more ministers, and not just from the Labor Party, are complaining that they are having trouble reaching the prime minister. And even when they do, chances are that they will be stung.

"It's not the endearing sting of Sharon," said one of the ministers. "With Ehud, it hurts."

Last stop: Defense Ministry

It is no secret that Amir Peretz saw the Defense Ministry as a way station on the road to the government complex in Jerusalem. But within two or three weeks he realized that this ministry might become his last stop. A little mistake or just plain old bad luck, and those out to get his political career will make the defense minister into a threat to state security.

At the end of May on Jerusalem Day, he had an opportunity to learn firsthand what a mess he had gotten himself into. As happens every year, the minister was asked to sign a form authorizing a total closure of the territories. Shaul Mofaz used to sign these forms with his eyes closed.

Peretz did not understand why Palestinian workers must be barred from construction sites on a regular workday. The West Bank remained open and several thousand Israelis came to the capital to mark the holiday. Many were at the main commemorative event on Ammunition Hill.

A report that a suicide bomber had infiltrated the area reached the defense minister's office at the height of the ceremony. The report that this was a false alarm arrived immediately afterward, but the thought that the ceremony could have ended in tragedy did not leave Peretz.

"Imagine what they would have done to me if it had been leaked that I didn't authorize a closure," the minister asked of himself as much as of his advisers.

On the one hand, Peretz is a captive of the top army brass. It would be enough for them to just start spreading David Levy jokes among the military correspondents. On the other hand, domestic harmony has a price. Only this week, the establishment he inherited took another two sharp blows from the Supreme Court. Two days ago, the High Court of Justice issued an injunction obligating the state to explain within 20 days why it should not move the route of the separation fence south of Ma'aleh Adumim to a less invasive route.

Yesterday the High Court of Justice accepted the appeal by West Bank residents against the appropriation of olive orchards by hilltop thugs. The vice president, Dorit Beinisch, ruled that the military commander, i.e., OC Central Command, made inappropriate use of closures that were supposedly implemented to protect Palestinians. She described it as "an extremely unfair measure, capitulation to violence and criminal actions."