Months of deliberations, private discussions and consultations ended Wednesday morning when Vice Premier Shimon Peres officially announced at a Kadima faction meeting: "I am running for president."
Peres explained his decision to try, for the second time, to become president: "It is no secret that I had many hesitations about running for this position. After all, I am not the youngest member of Knesset. I have fulfilled most of the senior positions in the government. I have experienced failures, but I also achieved things, that I hope will contribute to this country, its welfare and its defense.
"I decided to accept the position after I was approached by the prime minister, MKs, and many Israelis from surprising places – simple folk as well as sophisticated people – who asked me to make this contribution, that I must say that this might be my last contribution to the State."
Peres also contended for the presidency in 2000. Many thought that Peres would win, but his younger opponent, Katsav, beat him. His loss in that election was later attributed to Shas 'betraying' him by breaking their promise of support. This loss was only one in a long chain of losses that gave him an image of an eternal 'loser,' an image that was only strengthened when he later lost the Labor Party chairmanship to Amir Peretz.
Requested God to grant him long life, Peres (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
At the faction meeting Peres addressed the participants and received numerous compliments. Knesset Speaker and acting President Dalia Itzik said: "I don't usually participate in the meetings for obvious reasons, but today I asked for the floor to say a few words. Shimon, more than you need this institution, the institution needs you. I believe that now, more then ever, your presence, intelligence, experience, your status all over the world, will bring much honor to this house, to the members of Knesset, and to the Israeli people.
"I am pleased you assented to the prime minister's request and our requests to contend. Even though you thought about it, in my view, for too long," she added.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took
the opportunity to embrace his number two. "I think one can say with certainty that the nation of Israel wishes to be dignified by seeing Shimon Peres as the president of the State of Israel.
Peres represents everything that Israelis think is right, suitable and honorable in a president," he said.
He stated that Peres was a "man of deeds, a man of achievements, with an exceptional standing. For a long time he has been not only a public, political asset within Israel, but an international asset among the Jewish world and the whole world."
"Mr Peres, I assure you that until June 13, Election Day, we will work diligently to ensure that the Knesset will rise to the challenge and express what is truly befitting for the people of Israel to get by voting for president," Olmert concluded.
Peres was very emotional during the meeting. "I would like to ask God to grant me a long life, even if it is only to justify all the credit you have given me."
He said that Israel was in the midst of infighting between people and between institutions of governance and democracy. "We are being tossed from elections to elections, from battle to battle, from on division to another. The people need a clam, stability. The government should be given an opportunity to work to its full potential, while respecting the opposition."
He said that "the president has an informal significance in strengthening and maintaining the stability of the various governmental institutions. I hope that I will succeed in to be heard loud and clear, explaining the strengths of a democracy even when it's under attack. I believe that we can and must lead a national reconciliation and civil equality. We must promote integrity.
"I am a believer. Without our belief we would not have reached where we are, and, as someone who has been involved in the Zionist undertaking since the 1940s, let me tell you that the state is strong," he said.
Last Monday, the Kadima faction had another meeting where it elected Shimon Peres as the Kadima representative in the race. The prime minister had asked the faction members to vote for Peres saying that he was "the natural choice."
That same day, the required signatures were collected.
Peres has two opponents in the race: MK Reuven Rivlin from the Likud, and Labor's MK Colette Avital, who is considered his political protégé. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau's name came up as a possible contender, but he recently announced that he was not going to run for president.