Labor leadership candidate Ophir Paz-Pines launched his campaign on Wednesday by accusing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of being corrupt, Defense Minister Amir Peretz of causing damage and his party of being “addicted to power.”
Under the banner “Restart Israel,” Paz-Pines told some 500 Labor activists at the party’s Tel Aviv headquarters that Israel had a shortage of leaders and surplus of politicians being investigated. He warned that if Labor did not start providing the public with an alternative leadership, Israel would turn instead to Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak.
“Olmert saying that he had no agenda was one of the worst things a prime minister has ever said, especially at a time when mothers are sending their children to war,” Paz-Pines said, referring to a statement Olmert made in September.
Paz-Pines outlined four steps Olmert took that proved that he in fact did have an agenda – against the legal establishment and the rule of law. Paz-Pines listed Olmert’s blocking him from joining the judicial selection committee, his removal of Meir Sheetrit from the Justice Ministry, his appointment of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and his failure to fill vacancies in the courts.
“Olmert’s agenda is to weaken the rule of law and erase the legacy of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak,” Paz-Pines said. “Labor needs to fight against this agenda and against corruption in Israel.”
Paz-Pines vowed that if he won the May 28 Labor primary, he would appoint as defense minister either of the two current front-runners in the race, former prime minister Ehud Barak or Labor MK Ami Ayalon. He said it was impossible for one man to serve as both defense minister and Labor leader as Barak and Ayalon aim to do.
“After the Winograd Commission and Amir Peretz, Israel will need a full-time defense minister to fix things,” Paz-Pines said.
Although he intends to keep the party in the coalition if elected, Paz-Pines warned that Labor should not be in the government at any price. He said that since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the party leaders behaved as if they were “addicted to power.”
Paz-Pines lashed out at Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and other Labor ministers for “running from the Social Affairs Ministry as if it were a hot potato.”
On diplomatic issues, Paz-Pines called for a peace conference with the United States and all the moderate Arab countries to find a regional solution to bring Middle East peace, based on the Saudi Plan that calls for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines in return for peace with the Arab world.
“The Iranian threat poses both great danger and a great opportunity to make peace with moderate Arab countries that are also threatened by Iran,” Paz-Pines said. “We should talk to [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas, but we can’t progress with him alone, because of the burden of Hamas on him. The Arab countries want to make peace with Israel on the basis of the Saudi Plan without [giving Palestinian refugees] the right of return.”
In a meeting with Jerusalem Post editors and reporters on Tuesday, Paz-Pines said he was concerned about the possibility of corruption in the State Attorney’s Office. Calling himself an adherent of the legal system but not a blind adherent, he said Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had made courageous decisions since his decision to exonerate former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Greek Island Affair, which Paz-Pines said was mistaken.