News Analysis: Witnessing the End of a Career

By most accounts, Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s days in his senior cabinet post are numbered. His future as party leader is also in jeopardy as a result of his behavior.

Yechiel Spira , | updated: 7:42 AM

Labor Party leader Defense Minister Amir Peretz is not only battling to remain in his senior cabinet post, but for his future as party leader as well. His adamant refusal to "do the right thing" and step down in compliance with public opinion polls and expressed wishes of party leaders may land him a spot outside of the inner circle of the political arena.

Peretz’s party leadership victory last year was viewed as a brilliant political coup, leaving his post as head of the nation’s Histadrut labor federation to beat seasoned politicians for the party leadership. Vice Premier Shimon Peres, then still a leading Labor Party statesman, was among those who ran for the leadership spot, but in defiance of all odds, Peretz emerged the victor. Others he defeated included former party leader Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and MK Matan Vilnai.

It did not take long for critics of the new leader to express concerns, warning he was a political novice despite being a seasoned labor negotiator. It was a sure bet that Peretz would be given the responsibility for the treasury, a natural senior position for the Histadrut veteran. To the surprise of all, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a coalition deal with Labor, placing Peretz in the defense spot.

The announcement was met with grave warnings of ‘what if,’ that have since been realized, resulting - in the opinion of some analysts - in the IDF failures in this summer’s war in Lebanon. Supporters of Peretz, on the other hand, praised the move, complimenting Olmert on being the first prime minister to appoint a civilian to the post rather than a retired general. They believed the move would result in a less hawkish policy. However, regional realities vis-a-vis Arab terror continue to dictate Israel’s realities and the need for a retired general, most analysts agree.

The nation was led to believe that Peretz yearned for the Finance Ministry slot but was left with the defense portfolio. It has recently been uncovered that this was not necessarily the case, and that it was Peretz who insisted on the defense slot, confident he would leave his mark in the annals of the IDF and State of Israel.

A poll released today shows that 78% of the country would like Peretz to step down and hand over the post to someone with experience in running of the nation’s defense/intelligence and security agencies. The most visible candidate to date is Ehud Barak, a former Prime Minister and IDF chief of staff who happens to be the nation's most highly decorated soldier/officer. This is based on the assumption that Labor is not planning to break away from the coalition and wishes to maintain control of the defense post.

Peretz publicly says he will not yield to pressure and is unwilling to step down in favor of another cabinet post. Behind the scenes, however, Labor leaders report he will – adding it is a matter of time until he realizes he must give in to mounting public pressure.

People close to PM Olmert are indicating that rumors Peretz will be offered the treasury are untrue, stating the prime minister has no intentions of replacing Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson. According to unconfirmed reports, efforts are in the works to create yet another cabinet post, a tailor-made finance-related portfolio that will give Peretz enough control and prestige to make a deal palatable. This was the solution created by Olmert to bring Yisrael Beiteinu into the government, creating the slot for Minister of Strategic Planning Avigdor Lieberman.

What does appear likely at present is that Peretz’s days as minister of defense are numbered, and by many accounts, so are his days as Labor leader, with primaries coming up no later than this coming May.