Defense Minister Amir Peretz knows that in the last few weeks, his big test has become Sderot, his hometown and target of the incessant rocket barrage from northern Gaza Qassam cells. The battle for home, between him and the terror organizations. Residents are waiting to see how a local son, who has reached the highest security rank, will return calm to their lives.
Mr. Defense minister, what has changed in the past month?
The weight of responsibility, every incident linked to a decision I took – it is also linked to my daily life… To meet family friends, that the children talk about their friends who are in fear… it's difficult for me. It's not simple at all."
Maybe you decided this week that the Qassams cannot be stopped through military means alone?
"Every war maneuver can be stopped completely only through diplomatic arrangements. I think that process, as it is taking place today, certainly has a chance, despite the fact that this Palestinian Authority has two heads. I think that even when we want to strengthen Abbas, we don't need to give him a bear hug, but to do so through mutual respect, and valuing the very important steps he is taken, especially those that are expressing leadership. I don't see the Palestinian dialogue, and the document known as the 'prisoner's document' as the central issue. The question is not the content. The question is the democratic act, if it takes place. There is much doubt that there will be a national referendum in the PA in the end. The chance of reaching an agreement is greater, therefore I don't delve into questions of content."
But despite that, is the content acceptable to you? The Palestinians say to go back to the '67 lines. Is that acceptable to you from a diplomatic stance?
"The prisoner's document is more extreme than the '67 lines. They don't recognize those lines, but instead create a context for calm. They don't even recognize the '67 borders. Therefore the prisoner's document is not acceptable to us, but for the dynamism taking place in the PA, it is clear that there are two acts that give democratic legitimacy. The first maneuver is the election of Abbas as PA chairman, and the second is the election of the Hamas government. If there will be a maneuver in which there will be a vote for Abbas, and recognition in him as a leader, that will be significant."
During the interview, a secretary walked into Peretz's office with a mobile phone. "It's important," she said, and Peretz took the phone. After finishing the conversation, he said with a worried expression: "This is about the hunger strikers in Sderot. I'm in touch with them, I spoke with them at length this week. They are my neighbors, my friends. It's not pleasant that your neighbors and acquaintances go against you. They are striking because they want to see a different kind of operation. When they stand opposite you, opposite your house, it is not simple. I certainly try that such incidents don't impact my decision making."
Did the difficult incident of the killing of the Palestinian beach on the Gaza beach embarrass you? In the past you fumed when civilians were affected, you aggressively condemned incidents like this.
"It didn't embarrass me. I felt sorrow. It makes me very angry now too. But to condemn operations in which civilians are affected does mean one should condemn from the fact that we did everything to prevent them being involved. With that, every civilian that is affected, and it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, there are no reasons that can justify such a heavy price for a civilian that is not involved, and that causes me sorrow. One can weigh every operation before it is carried out, I always emphasize this to the chief of staff and his people, emphasize this issue of civilians, we must take care in every way, and we do so."
Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report