Former Israeli premier Shimon Peres said Monday he was not interested in running the Labor party permanently, as the divided party moved towards a vote whether to join a national unity government with right-wing Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, said AFP.
"I do not intend to be a candidate for the leadership of the party," the agency quoted him as telling Israeli public radio, a day after Labor ministers and parliamentarians nominated him as the party's interim head until it holds leadership primaries in a few months.
Peres, 77, is a strong proponent of a national unity government, in which he would almost certainly hold a top ministerial spot.
The Labor's central committee will meet later Monday in Tel Aviv to decide on whether to join a unity government, said reports.
Many prominent Labor doves, including parliament speaker Avraham Burg, foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, and justice minister, Yossi Beilin, have been rallying party members against joining Sharon's government, which will likely include divisive members of the far-right, said Haaretz.
Amid the power vacuum at the top of Labor, party secretary general, Raanan, Cohen called on the party to support a unity government for the time being.
"I think we need to support Sharon from the outside until we hold our primary elections, as the Labor party must restore its unity," Cohen said.
Likud members have threatened that if Labor does not make a final decision on a unity government Monday, it may form a narrow coalition government excluding Labor.
A Sharon spokesman urged Labor to agree to a unity government so a cabinet could be formed this week, said the paper.
"Ariel Sharon is ready to be very generous and to give all sorts of concessions, but things cannot drag on indefinitely," Sharon spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said, citing the "serious security problems" Israel faced, said AFP.
"Everything has been resolved -- the government program, the list of ministerial portfolios; the only problem is the divisions inside the Labor party on the idea of joining a national unity government," Gissin told AFP.
In negotiations with Likud, Labor has been promised eight ministries and four deputy minister posts.
Ehud Barak's outgoing government had 23 cabinet spots.
Two of the most powerful ministries, foreign affairs and defense, have been reserved for Labor, although the party has mulled renouncing defense in exchange for three ministries that address social issues, including finance, said Haaretz.
Cohen said the party was still pursuing last-minute negotiations with Likud and made clear Labor could still claim the defense ministry, particularly if the party does not get the treasury.
Peres indirectly confirmed to Israeli radio Saturday that Sharon had offered him the defense post, but said he would prefer to serve as foreign minister to "do more to advance peace." - Albawaba.com
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