peretz at labor mtg 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Voting unanimously to approve a bill to disperse the Knesset, Labor MKs reaffirmed their commitment to the party during the Labor faction meeting Monday.
"We are a strong party and we have caught Likud with their pants down," said party Chairman Amir Peretz. "But we don't want to win elections because we have caught someone with their pants down, we want to win because we provide a better alternative."
Rumors that there would be a mass exodus of Labor MKs to Ariel Sharon's new party were quieted during the meeting when several pivotal MKs, including Dalia Itzik and Matan Vilna'i, attended the meeting affirming their commitment to the Labor Party.
"The Sharon party is a temporary adventure, while the Labor Party will last for years to come," said Peretz. "The Labor movement can return Israel to sanity."
Shimon Peres, who did not attend the meeting, later told The Jerusalem Post that he was taking "a vacation from party politics," and that it was "not the same as a divorce." Although he would not confirm his role in Labor, he hinted that party loyalty was important to him and added, "I once left with [David] Ben-Gurion and that's it."
Peres was also one of eight Labor MKs who resigned from their ministerial posts ahead of the Knesset vote to disperse the Knesset Monday.
President Moshe Katsav had expressed concern over the vacancy of those positions. With the Knesset's dissolution, Sharon would be unable to fill those ministerial posts.
Peretz, after meeting with Katsav Monday afternoon, told the Labor faction meeting that he had reached a compromise regarding those ministries in exchange for Katsav granting the Knesset more time to reach a conclusion to disperse itself.
"We recognize that the government can not function with so few ministers," said Peretz. "The fear of the president was that the government would be left with only five ministers. We are not here to destroy the state however, so we reached an agreement that Sharon would be allowed to approve ministers to facilitate running the government at this time."
Peretz's announcement was approved by the MKs, on the grounds that Sharon would be permitted to appoint up to five ministers, and not, as argued by MK Avraham Shochat, fill the ministries "to the brim with his own lackeys."
"Allowing Sharon to fill ministerial posts is the responsible thing to do," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who resigned from his post as interior minister directly following the faction meeting. "They must continue to function for the good of the state."
During the meeting, Peretz also discussed the election date. Likud and Labor faction heads had reached an agreement for elections on March 28.
Peretz assured the MKs present that elections would be held no sooner, and there would be no "filibuster to buy Sharon more time."
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.