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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Vice Premier Shimon Peres has begun campaigning for the presidency in earnest, seeking support from MKs from across the political spectrum in meetings and phone calls, a source close to him told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night.
The source said Peres was waiting for a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which Olmert is expected to endorse his candidacy. Olmert and Peres meet weekly and it appeared likely that Olmert would put his decision on Kadima's presidential candidate high on his agenda after his return from Russia late last night.
A source in Shas said that Peres met last month with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and discussed the possibility that Peres would seek the presidency.
The front-runner, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), has asked Shas chairman Eli Yishai for a meeting with the rabbi, but it has not yet taken place. Shas officials said the party would not endorse a candidate until the last minute.
Peres lost the 2000 presidential race to Moshe Katsav due to Shas's failure to support him after he received a commitment from the party. Sources close to Peres said he could not afford to lose another presidential election and that he would only run if his victory was guaranteed beyond a reasonable doubt.
"There is no doubt that Shimon Peres is the most fitting candidate, but it would be disastrous for him and the country if he lost again," said Labor MK Avishay Braverman, a longtime Peres confidant. "Peres is in a league of his own and he is a healthy 83. Having Peres as president would add respect for Israel in the world, especially after the image of the presidency has been harmed."
Braverman, who has discussed the presidential race with Peres, said that MK Colette Avital (Labor) was a worthy candidate but that if Peres runs, Labor should endorse Peres and Avital should withdraw. Avital is set to meet with Labor chairman Amir Peretz on Friday to ask for his support.
Peres reportedly met with political ally Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at the legislature on Wednesday and discussed strategy. Channel 10 reported that Peres's associates had already received a commitment from 64 MKs.
But Peres's spokesman Yoram Dori called such reports nonsense and said that he had been busy with his Ministry of Negev and Galilee Development.
"Peres likes what he does and he has the full support of the prime minister," Dori said.
A National Union MK said he hoped Peres would run for president because he wanted to watch him lose again. "I remember the frown after he lost last time and I can't wait to see it again," the lawmaker said. "I don't understand why he still trusts the Knesset members. They will betray him again."
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau denied Thursday that he was a candidate for president. "I am in no way considering the issue," he said during an interview on Non-Stop Radio's morning program.
Sources close to Lau said afterward, however, that while the rabbi cannot officially say he is running until Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decides President Katsav's fate, the rabbi has, in fact, decided to run and he would announce his candidacy after that happens.
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