Worthy Christian News » World News » Peres Ponders a Three-Way Race for Prime Minister
After the Knesset voted early Tuesday morning not to dissolve, the special Israeli election for prime minister only appeared to come down to a race between incumbent Ehud Barak and Likud chairman Ariel Sharon. But prominent dove Shimon Peres looked at his numbers in the polls and announced on Wednesday he plans to run as well, adding more pressure on Barak to seal a quick peace deal in renewed talks with the Palestinians.
Peres confirmed speculation this morning that he was throwing his hat into the ring and has begun collecting the signatures of 10 MKs needed by Thursday night to officially submit his candidacy for the premiership. He has been discussing the move with Meretz head Yossi Sarid and hopes to garner signatures from the leftist party, the Center or Shinui factions or perhaps even renegade Labor MKs. Meretz will meet Thursday to make a decision. If he gets in, Peres will remove his candidacy if the Barak government reaches an agreement with the Palestinians before January 20, when US President Bill Clinton leaves office.
Barak is seeking a meeting with Peres to avert the challenge, and Labor Secretary Ra'anan Cohen said today that he would do all he could to ensure that Peres received a "very senior position" in the Barak government in exchange for supporting Barak's candidacy. Barak has offered him a role in peace planning and a senior position in the Labor campaign. But the 77-year-old Peres, a Nobel laureate and Oslo architect, is performing better against Sharon than Barak in new polls taken since former PM Binyamin Netanyahu dropped out of the running on Tuesday.
A Dahaf poll for YEDIOT AHRONOT published today found Barak would come in last in a three-way race for prime minister set for February 6, forcing a second Peres-Sharon round two weeks later that Peres would narrowly win. The survey predicted Barak would garner 18% of the vote, Peres 29% and Sharon 38% in a first round of voting. In a hypothetical two-man run-off, Peres would beat Sharon 41% to 39%, well within the margin of error.
If Peres does not run, Sharon would get 43% and Barak 35%. A candidate needs over 50% of votes cast to avoid a run-off between the two top vote-getters. Netanyahu, by the way, holds seemingly insurmountable leads over any other contenders.
Some Israeli political analysts believe Barak rushed to renew talks with the Palestinians in an attempt to hold off a challenge from Peres. Those negotiations resumed in Washington yesterday. Barak is believed to have little chance of re-election - in a campaign he forced by his own resignation - unless he can wave some sort of peace agreement before the voters by election day.
Hitting the campaign trail on Tuesday, Barak told an audience in Jerusalem the US-brokered peace drive was "another attempt... to reduce the level of violence and try to examine if it was possible to resume the negotiations. There is no other way... except to prevent another total war and especially its terrible price," Barak said.
Interestingly, Peres needs the backing of Sarid, who was in Cairo today for yet another set of talks as Barak's special envoy to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Sarid briefed Mubarak on Israel's stance with regard to the Temple Mount and the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the main issues plaguing peace discussions. Last year, Barak appointed Peres to a special cabinet post as Minister for Regional Cooperation, but sidelined Israel's senior dove from the peace process.
Another potential landmine for the Barak campaign loomed in the results of an investigation into campaign funding presented to a Knesset committee for debate Wednesday. A Knesset panel opened discussions today on the findings of a state registrar's probe into Not-for-Profit Organizations (NPOs) suspected of illegally serving as fundraising conduits and electioneering resources for Barak's 1999 successful campaign for the premiership. The inquiry found that three of the NPOs operated in violation of the law, acting on Barak's behalf in contradiction to the stated goals under which they were established.
Peres and Sharon come from an older generation of Israeli leaders than Barak and Netanyahu, and both have an opportunity to realize an ambition in the twilight of their political careers - to win outright the country's top office. Peres has run five times for PM and never won, although he has served a term as head of a unity government on a rotating basis with Likud, and then replaced slain Israeli leader Yitazhak Rabin for a brief stint in 1995-1996.
Sharon was a respected IDF general and served as defense and foreign minister in several governments, but suffered a big political setback in the 1980s when he was charged by the left with leading Israel into a costly war in Lebanon. The Kahan commission of inquiry into the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres led to his being removed from his post as defense minister. But Sharon has rebuilt his career since and returned to senior leadership posts, but never prime minister.
As a housing minister, Sharon encouraged the expansion of Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria and Gaza, a key sticking point in current negotiations. He served as part of the Netanyahu government's negotiating team at Wye Plantation in 1998 and rushed back to urge settlers to "grab hilltops." When Netanyahu lost to Barak in last year's balloting and declared a "time out" from politics, Sharon filled the vacuum at the helm of the Likud and has helped rebuild the party since.
Netanyahu was set in recent days to reclaim that post, but his decision to stay out of the running until Knesset elections are held as well has revived Sharon's chances. Sharon appears to made moderated some positions in recent years, including acceptance of a Palestinian state. And the settler movement will always remember his lead role in evicting Israelis from towns like Yamit in the Sinai as part of the peace terms with Egypt.
The slogan Sharon has so far adopted - "Only Sharon can bring peace" - may be part of an effort to alter his hawkish image in order to appeal to centrist voters. If Sharon were elected, however, it is certain the unforgiving left would immediately push for new general elections, an end result that Netanyahu says is necessary and inevitable, and one he would likely still enter as the frontrunner.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.