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      Personal Issues Bog Down Olmert-Peretz Cooperation

      Thursday's weekly meeting between PM Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz is unlikely to mend the rift between the two, but it may at least keep matters of state on the front burner.
      By Hana Levi Julian
      First Publish: 11/23/2006, 12:11 PM / Last Update: 11/23/2006, 9:15 AM

      The two men have been sniping at each other for days, but a recent telephone conversation between Peretz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas set off a firestorm between the two.

      Olmert accused Peretz of exceeding his authority by making contact with Abbas to discuss possiblities for peace. He also claimed that Peretz had damaged existing contacts with the PA – and accused the defense minister of not providing a full, detailed report of the conversation.

      Peretz told Olmert that his own previous contacts with Abbas constituted the same faux pas of maintaining contact with PA officials without informing him. The Defense Minister added Abbas had initiated the conversation and that he had simply returned the call.

      "Amir won't put down the phone on anyone who calls him," said an associate of Peretz, according to the Haaretz news service. "He is the defense minister and chairman of the Labor party – and will advance peace issues. That is why he was elected," he said.

      It is believed by political observers that Peretz's days as Defense Minister are numbered, and that Olmert may use Thursday's meeting to further his goal of ousting him.

      Peretz is facing similar troubles within his own party, with calls by Labor members for him to step down from the Defense Ministry and hand his job over to someone within the ranks who has more military expertise.

      Unofficially, it is being reported that today’s meeting with the prime minister will lead to a respectful formula that will permit Peretz to resign, possibly to take another senior post in the government. In that scenario, former prime minister and retired IDF chief of staff, Ehud Barak, will be brought in to take over the Defense Ministry.

      According to a Geocartography poll released last Tuesday, some 60% of the nation is calling for Peretz’s resignation, with even more calling on IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to step down as well.