The danse macabre between Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz continues. It’s a wonder they haven’t come to blows yet at a cabinet meeting. Today’s Haaretz reports a series of fascinating stories that begin with a telephone call Peretz placed to Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday asking if the Palestinian resistance groups would respond favorably to a bilateral ceasefire offer from Israel. On the strength of this call, Abbas called an urgent meeting of the factions to discuss the proposal. Hamas representatives responded favorably and said they’d be willing to institute an immediate cessation of Qassam attacks:
Hamas told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas it was prepared to immediately halt Qassam attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip. The announcement came at a meeting on Monday of Palestinian factions, in which Abbas presented Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s proposal for a mutual cease-fire…
The meeting…took place Monday afternoon in Gaza, and was attended by representatives of…Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)…
Abbas opened the discussion by reporting he had received a proposal from Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz for a mutual cease-fire. He said that as opposed to previous cease-fire initiatives, in which Israel made unilateral demands of the Palestinians, Israel would agree this time to stop the fighting from its side, as well. “I told Peretz that Israel must also stop firing,” Abbas said of his response to Peretz’s request that the Palestinians halt their Qassam attacks.
Abbas conceded, however, to those present that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s position on the cease-fire was still unclear, in light of media reports Monday that the prime minister had prohibited Peretz from meeting with Abbas.
Palestinian sources said Hamas representatives…expressed willingness to stop firing Qassams at Israel. However Abbas also demanded a commitment from Hamas to stop attacks in the West Bank. In response to this, the two men said they would need additional time to consult with senior members of the organization before coming to a final decision on the matter.
But acting like a petulant boss whose subordinate has just upstaged him, Olmert has slapped Peretz around publicly for his temerity in taking such an initiative. Now Olmert’s henchmen are trumpeting that Peretz’s days are numbered as defense minister. So much for what started out as a promising initiative:
Aides to Ehud Olmert were quoted Tuesday as saying that the prime minister will act soon to replace Amir Peretz as defense minister, in the wake of fierce feuding between the leaders.
The degenerating relations between the two reached a new low this week, after Olmert learned after the fact, that Peretz had spoken Sunday night before by telephone with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in order to discuss a Peretz proposal for a mutual cease-fire.
But we must remind everyone that it was Olmert, the lying scoundrel who tells George Bush and the world how willing, nay eager he is to meet with Abbas and sit down to resolve the crisis, who turned his back on this excellent opportunity. Olmert, you can lie but you can’t hide. Peace has come knocking on your door and all you think about is whether your rival is upstaging you.
Senior Hamas representatives have confirmed their interest in the Peretz proposal. But in this case, it is the Israelis who seem to be in disarray–or I should say that it is Olmert who is scurrying from this proposal as fast as his little legs will carry him lest it edge him closer to having to sit down with Palestinians to negotiate a peace deal:
The head of the Hamas parliamentary faction, Salah Bardawil, told Haaretz on Monday that his organization was prepared to engage in an immediate cease-fire with Israel, on the condition that it be mutual. Bardawil said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had proposed returning to an agreement on a tahadiyeh – a temporary cease-fire, before, “but now the problem is on the Israeli side.”
He added, “Peretz and Olmert are divided in their opinions and it is not clear to us what Israel’s position is on stopping the fighting. Peretz asked Abu Mazen [Abbas] for a cease-fire, the chairman asked for an Israeli commitment to stop the firing on its side, but Peretz cannot give an Israeli answer on this subject.”
While I have been critical of Peretz here, I admire this bold move. Even if his days are numbered as defense minister, which is by no means guaranteed, he ought to conduct policy as if he were an independent player in the cabinet. The days of playing for the team should have been over long ago.
Tzipi Livni learned as long ago as the days of the Lebanon war that joining Olmert’s team and cheerleading for the war would be disastrous not only for Israel, but for her political career. Now, she’s the most popular politician in Israel (that’s not saying much considering her competition). Peretz should learn a lesson and bring his dovish principles back into play. Even if Olmert shoots him down, so much the better. At least Peretz will have presented an alternative to Olmert’s stonewalling policy. It wouldn’t be hard to make Olmert look like a dithering fool before the entire Israeli electorate when it comes to relations with the Palestinians.
Another Haaretz article points out that pressure for an Israeli diplomatic initiative also comes from Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peretz. But, of course, Mr. Nyet has the last word and that word is…yes (or I should say “No”), you guessed it. Does this guy sound insecure or what?
During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Olmert asked his ministers to stop “bringing [up] a new diplomatic initiative every day.”
Olmert’s response to calls for a diplomatic agenda was rejected by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who feels that he is being sidelined by the prime minister’s rejectionist stance.
The issue came to a head on Sunday, when Peretz and Olmert clashed over the Labor leader’s request to meet with Abbas.
“No one will meet with Abu Mazen before me,” Olmert told Peretz.
Here is how Haaretz describes the showdown between the two men after Peretz spoke with Abbas:
Peretz asked for an urgent meeting with Olmert and informed him of the conversation.
The prime minister told his defense minister to let the matter rest.
“We are dealing with it,” Olmert said. “A cease-fire is not declared in five minutes. Orderly discussions are necessary.”
“I am not a minister of assassinations,” Peretz responded angrily, referring to the policy of targeted killings. “I am the head of the peace camp! I need to talk about a cease-fire. I am not only responsible for the intensity of the fire!” Peretz continued in protest.
The incident was interpreted by Peretz and Olmert differently. Peretz complained that Olmert had undermined a bold effort to gain an end to the Qassam rocket attacks. Olmert opposed what he saw as an effort to bypass his authority, and his aides described the Peretz-Abbas telephone conversation as an exercise void of substance.
An “exercise void of substance?” I’d say that pretty much describes Olmert’s entire policy regarding the Palestinians (and Lebanon) and indeed his entire prime ministership.
I find it laughable that Condi Rice is putting her money on this horse to deliver a bold initiative that will help break the logjam of Arab hate for the U.S. and its Mideast policies. Olmert’s about as fleet of foot as the old gray mare who “ain’t what she used to be.” If I were Condi I’d whup ol’ Ehud upside the head and tell him to get with the program: “we want a ceasefire and we want it now,” should be her mantra. To that she could add: “By any means necessary.”