In the next chapter of the story of his meandering political road, member of Knesset Amir Peretz is about to announce his candidacy to the role of the chairman of the Histadrut, Israel’s main workers union, and assuming that the way of the great statesman Eitan Cabel to the role would be blocked, to run against Ofer Eini who Peretz helped to appoint to the role six years ago.
After defeating Shimon Peres in the elections to the leadership of the Labour party at the end of 2005, Peretz led the party to the general elections in the spring of 2006 and joined the coalition headed by Kadima. Peretz wanted the role of finance minister, a simple and easy role fit for any school child, that Peretz was of course ‘fully qualified’ to fill, but Olmert had other ideas and he insisted on appointing to the role of finance minister his friend, the sky-blue talit Avraham Hirshzon. In one of the most serious acts of lack of national responsibility ever carried out by an Israeli prime minister, Olmert offered Peretz the role of defence minister. Nobody claims that a defence minister has to be a retired chief of staff or general – politicians who did not come from a senior military background, like Shimon Peres and Moshe Arens, served successfully in this role. But these people had a deep understanding of Israel’s security from other angles.
Amir Peretz could have bought his world in an hour. He could have said to Olmert something along the lines of: “Sir, I ran in the elections with a reformist social manifesto and I intend to implement it. I have not got the knowledge and skills required of an Israeli defence minister. I demand to be appointed to a top minister for matters of social welfare where I could have direct influence on matters close to my heart. In my party, there are four or five men with a distinct security background, and putting aside for a moment my personal conflicts with them, let us sit together to decide who amongst them is the most suitable candidate for the role of defence minister.”
Unfortunately for the state of Israel, Amir Peretz did not find within himself the humility and the wisdom needed to say these words, and the results are well known. From his point of view, as well as from Israel’s point of view, it would have been better even to have Shaul Mofaz stay in the role and take personal responsibility for the ‘porridge’ of the second Lebanon war he helped to cook as a chief of staff and later as a defence minister. Perhaps today we would have been spared the farces in the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of the Knesset, and the placards already crowning Mofaz as Israel’s future prime minister.