Photo: Reuters
Peres during recent trip to Barcelona
Photo: Reuters

Peres quits Labor; to support PM in elections

Veteran statesman announces end of his political activity in Labor; says he will support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in March elections: “I ask myself where I can contribute, and the answer is: Advancing the peace process”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres quit the Labor Party on Wednesday, leaving his political home of nearly six decades to campaign for Ariel Sharon's new centrist party, Kadima.


The 82-year-old Peres, who has held every major cabinet position, left Labor after his humiliating loss to union leader Amir Peretz in the race for party leader three weeks ago.


He said he was supporting Sharon because he had the best chance of restarting the peace process with the Palestinians.


"It was not easy but I made the choice and decided," Peres said.


Peres' defection was a coup for the premier's new Kadima Party as the major political factions scramble to snare high-profile supporters before March parliamentary elections. Many Israelis respect Peres for his decades of service to the country, but some view him warily as a dove and political opportunist.


Under a reported deal worked out with Sharon, Peres would campaign for the prime minister without officially joining Kadima. If Sharon wins, Peres would receive a senior cabinet post, either dealing with the peace process or with his pet project to develop Israel's sparsely populated Negev desert and northern Galilee regions.


"I don't believe that it is possible to push forward the peace process in the current political constellation," Peres said. "I believe the most qualified person for this is Ariel Sharon.


"He will restart the peace process right after the election. I decided to join him and work with him."


'My party activity has come to an end'


Peres said he was making the move in the interests of Middle East peace.


“This is a difficult day for me. I ask myself what is the main issue facing Israel in the coming years; I have no doubt that it is the inevitable combination of peace and the advancement of the diplomatic process,” he said.


“I ask myself where I can contribute, and the answer is: Advancing the peace process, which will bring about economic prosperity and social justice.


“This has not been an easy decision for me, but I found myself faced with the contradiction between the party of which I am a member, and the requirements of the political situation," Peres said.


"Without ignoring the deep connection that I have to the party's historical path and its members, I must prefer the more urgent and greater consideration ... My party activity has come to an end."


Earlier Peres landed at Ben-Gurion Airport following a visit to Barcelona, where he attended a friendly soccer match in which a team comprised of Israeli and Palestinian players faced local powerhouse FC Barcelona; the game, which was sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, ended 2:1 in favor of the Catalonians.


'Pathetic excuse'


Responses to Peres' announcement have flooded in from the stormy political arena.


Labor member and former minister Ophir Paz-Pines said that "fabricated ideological stories of Shimon Peres are embarrassing and fake. There's no doubt that no one will buy them. The Labor party is committed to peace more than every other party, and Peres' attempt to excuse his abandonment by talking about peace is pathetic."


Pines added: "It's too bad, because Peres did so much for the State, but he'll be remembered as someone who abandoned the home which he lead for dozens of years for a party based on personal career interests. No one knows where it came from, and where it is going."


Attacking Peres' resignation from the other side of the political spectrum, the Likud released a statement (which seemed not to take account of the fact that Peres did not in fact join Kadima), in which it said that "the joining of Peres to Kadima after the joining of Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik is clear proof that Kadima is a Left-wing party, that will take us down the Oslo path."


Meretz-Yahad Chairman Yossi Belin welcomed Peres' exit from Labor, and said: "Peres left the theoretical supermarket known as the Labor party – and rightly so." However, Beilin added that "Peres made a serious mistake when he joined Sharon's supermarket, which only offers products past their sell-by dates."


News Agencies contributed to the report


פרסום ראשון: 11.30.05, 20:23
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