Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak called on former premier Shimon Peres Tuesday not to throw his hat into the prime ministerial race so as not to "divide" the peace camp.
"I call on Shimon Peres to join me in this moment when we are leaving for an assault on peace and not to provoke unnecessary splits and divisions," Barak told Israeli public television.
Barak was referring to the latest efforts by outgoing US President Bill Clinton to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians before he leaves office on January 20 and before Israeli prime ministerial elections in February.
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were to meet with US officials in the United States beginning on Tuesday to explore the possibility of reviving a peace process all but killed by nearly three months of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"We need to unite," Barak said, arguing that a bid by Peres would give the election to the leader of the right-wing Likud opposition party, Ariel Sharon.
Peres only has until Thursday to formalize a candidacy for the election, which is set for February 6.
There had been moves Tuesday to try to delay the election date by a month, but parliament spokesman Giora Pordes said the Knesset's law and constitution commission had ruled it would not change.
A delay had been seen as helping the election prospects of Peres.
Asked on public radio whether he will run, Peres said simply: "That depends on the dates."
Polls show that Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiations with the Palestinians that led to the 1993 Oslo peace accord, would do better than Barak against Sharon.
Army radio, quoting Peres aides, said Peres would like to see the vote delayed to March, giving him enough time to organize a campaign.
Candidates for prime minister must register by December 25.
With Barak already Labour's nominee, Peres is talking to the left-wing Meretz party, which has the 10 parliamentary votes needed to sponsor a candidate for prime minister.
On Tuesday, Meretz chief Yossi Sarid declined to commit himself on the party's response, and the party's leadership is due to meet on Thursday morning to adopt one.
Sarid said the party's decision would be based on the relative prospects of Peres and Barak beating the right in the elections and on the outcome of contacts Barak has made with the Palestinians to revive the peace process.
Peres, 77, has never won a national election and, in July, parliament chose political unknown Moshe Katsav over Peres for the largely ceremonial post of president -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)