The Role of Peretz

Peretz can bridge the gap between the elites, who fear Benjamin Netanyahu, and the masses, who are about to vote for him.

Do not rush to eulogize Amir Peretz. We must not lose him. Trailing behind Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak in the surveys, it appears he won't be elected to head the Labor Party. Nonetheless, he must not disappear from the landscape of our public life. An important role still awaits Peretz in his party and in Israeli society. This is why his power must not be squashed in the upcoming primaries.

He should pay the price for his responsibility for last year's futile war. But considering the other candidates, some of whom are no less tainted by ongoing failures in security and statesmanship, it is important that he continue to be among the party's top leadership. Whoever is unable to vote for Barak, because of the arrogant and intolerable silence he has maintained during recent months, and cannot vote for Ayalon because of his strange political views, particularly with regard to peace with Syria, should wholeheartedly vote for Peretz. If the brain tells you to vote for Barak, the heart must tell you to vote for Peretz, despite everything. Even if he does not lead the party, it is important that his camp at least be second in importance. Despite their mutual loathing, the combination of Barak - the only candidate capable of ensuring victory for his party - and Peretz - the candidate most faithful to the party's path, who can also bring new communities into it - is the right combination for Labor, which has not had an opportunity like this to generate change for a long time.

Peretz had no chance. As someone who fell into the cauldron of war soon after his appointment, he is least guilty for its failures. The war was planned by the chief of staff and approved by the prime minister; one couldn't expect the new defense minister to stem the tide. Facing a prime minister and strong military establishment, with a hostile and obstructive tailwind blowing from his party colleagues, and in light of the deep-rooted ethnic racism that portrayed him as ludicrous (unlike the portrayal of the war's other instigators), it should come as no surprise that he was swept up in the awful whirlwind.

It is difficult to believe that in his situation someone else would have withstood such pressures any better. And, indeed, during his first months in office, especially after the war, Peretz was a humiliated defense minister, insecure and lost. He became another one of the war's casualties. It is possible to believe that if the war had not erupted, we would have seen a different sort of defense minister. If he had enjoyed another few months of apprenticeship, without the accursed war, he would undoubtedly have grown with the position.

In recent months, he has returned to himself. In an impressive series of interviews, the Peretz we knew has once more emerged - almost like the Peretz we wanted him to be. This is the time to recall his uniqueness, a uniqueness that has not faded, in comparison with all the other candidates for national leadership. Peretz is the only candidate who knows the housing blocks of Sderot better than the skyscrapers of Manhattan. That is a rare advantage here. He does not brush shoulders with tycoons; he is not the product of the destructive and blinding military and security establishment; he is not suspected of corruption; and he is the only leader to emerge from a development town with a "mark of Cain" bearing Peace Now. Peretz can bridge the gap between the elites, who fear Benjamin Netanyahu, and the masses, who are about to vote for him.

It is true that supporting him now may appear a bit eccentric, especially in light of the uniform public chorus that long ago determined his fate. But while Ehud Olmert claims only he can make the repairs, Peretz is a much more worthy candidate for the task of repair. At least he came to his position with a worldview. True, he has done almost nothing to realize it, but in the recent interviews he demonstrated that he is not seeking to renounce it. If he now prevents the Israel Defense Forces from going wild in bleeding Gaza, he will also prove this in deeds.

The talk about his lack of experience also deserves to be examined. What, after all, did the experienced ones do? Who dispatched the IDF on missions of policing and occupation for years, while neglecting its role as an army? Who neglected the home front? And who did everything to prevent any chance for peace? The experienced ones. They were also the ones who pushed for the war and are now pushing for "a major operation" in Gaza. The government must not be left in their hands alone. Perhaps this is not the time to chant, "Peretz to power." But, heaven forbid, it is also not the time to chant, "Peretz go home."