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Shimon Peres Leaves Israel's Dovish Labor Party, Joins Sharon


Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres has left the Labor Party to form a new alliance with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It is the latest political shake-up as Israel prepares for early elections in March.

After six decades in the dovish Labor Party, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres parted ways. He declared support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party called Kadima or "forward." Israeli media say Mr. Peres will not formally join the party, but if it wins early elections in March, he would be appointed chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians.

"I decided to dedicate the next years to contribute to the supreme effort of making peace between our neighbors and us," Mr. Peres said.

Mr. Peres has plenty of experience. He is the architect of the Oslo Accords with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Both men won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Mr. Peres told a news conference that Ariel Sharon is the man most capable of making peace.

"My hope which is great compelled me to a decision that is neither simple nor mundane, but I can't escape it," Mr. Peres said. "It has not been easy but I have made my choice."

At age 82, Shimon Peres is the most prominent among many politicians who have quit their traditional parties to join Mr. Sharon. That has given the prime minister a boost and he is way ahead in the polls. The latest survey shows Mr. Sharon's party winning 34 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel's parliament. The hawkish Likud party which Mr. Sharon abandoned last week would win only 10 seats, down from its current 40.

The polls indicate that a solid majority of Israelis support Mr. Sharon's willingness to give up parts of the West Bank, after Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in August. This national consensus is embodied in the alliance between Mr. Sharon, who was once Israel's leading hawk, and Mr. Peres, who is the nation's leading dove. By joining forces, they strengthen the new centrist party's appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.

With a combined age of 159, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Peres remain the top players in Israeli politics.

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