Minister for Regional Cooperation Shimon Peres has decided to enter the prime ministerial race, reported Haaretz Wednesday.
Peres telephoned Meretz party lawmakers and figures in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's One Israel alliance to tell them of his decision, according to the paper.
In a report by The Jerusalem Post, Peres told politicians Tuesday he plans to run for prime minister against Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Likud chairman Ariel Sharon, despite a decision by the Central Elections Committee on the same day to retain February 6 as the official date for an election for the premiership, according to The Jerusalem Post.
A source close to Peres quoted him as saying he is "determined" to go ahead with his candidacy. Another source told the paper that Peres “very much wants to run.”
The comments came as Barak stepped up his effort to ensure that Peres would not run. Speaking at an election rally in Beersheba, Barak urged Peres "Come together with us and charge toward peace, don't lend a hand to division and dispute.”
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.
According to the post, while recent polls have shown that Peres may have as good a chance as Barak in a race against Sharon, Labor sources expressed concern that he would split the vote on the Left, thereby paving the way for a Sharon victory.
A Palestinian analyst, Wadee Nassar, has said in an interview with Albawaba.com that Arabs and Israeli leftists are likely to vote fro Peres if he runs against Barak unless the latter was able to hammer a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Center Party MK Uri Savir, a close associate, was quoted by the Israeli daily as saying Tuesday that Peres's candidacy would help the race, now that Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped out following the Knesset vote against general elections on Monday.
"I say another candidate, and certainly Peres, would get people out to vote... for peace," Savir told Israeli Channel 1.
Peres told reporters in Tel Aviv earlier in the day that if the Knesset decided to hold the election as early as February 6, instead of a month later, he would not have enough time to launch a campaign.
"Based on that, I will decide," he said before the date was set.
The Paper cited Meretz officials, led by party chairman Yossi Sarid, as saying more time is needed to organize a peace candidate. A later date would have allowed members of the peace camp to give a chance for negotiations with the Palestinians being conducted by Barak. Sarid said Tuesday that if a peace accord is reached, the additional candidacy would be dropped.
"We would have two parameters," he said. "One, how to overcome the Right, and any way that makes it easier for us to defeat the Right will be the way that we choose. Two, how to advance the peace process, and reach, as soon as possible, a positive conclusion," he said. "In another few days, we will make an announcement.”
Meretz has been considering whether to have its 10 MKs sponsor a Peres candidacy, which is the legal minimum he needs from one Knesset faction in order to vie for the premiership. Many members of the party prefer Sarid as a nominee, but others argue that Peres would be a more acceptable candidate to a broader spectrum of the Israeli public. The Meretz executive was scheduled to meet Thursday.
Asked about the argument that his candidacy would split, and possibly damage, the Left in the prime ministerial election, Peres responded, "I am aware of that concern,” according to the Post.
It added that Barak associates have insisted that a rival effort in the campaign would put unfair pressure on the prime minister as he tries to emerge from talks with the Palestinians with the best deal possible. Labor Party secretary-general and cabinet minister Ra'anan Cohen paid another call on Peres Tuesday, to try to convince him to drop the idea. Barak has offered the former prime minister a role in peace planning and a senior position in the Labor campaign.
"The peace camp is strengthened by two candidates," countered Savir, a long-time Peres confidant. "It is not a way of dividing, but rather of gathering up strength," he added. "Either it's Peres, or no one," he affirmed.
He said it would have been better for one of the younger Labor members to have challenged Barak, but in lieu of that, and in light of polls showing that Israelis feel that there is a "leadership crisis" in the country, Peres is the answer -- (Several Sources)
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