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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sources in the Labor Party told The Jerusalem Post that they believed Vice Premier Shimon Peres plans to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima party in the coming days.
"My impression was that Peres will decide to leave Labor," a senior Labor official who spoke to Peres on Sunday said. "It was clear from what he told me that he's leaning against staying in the party."
Peres spoke to reporters on Sunday evening at Jerusalem's David Citadel hotel, prior to a meeting with a Belgian governmental delegation. He emphasized how hard it is for him to decide his next move, politically.
"The decision is difficult for me. There are many considerations - historical and otherwise. It's very personal," Peres explained. "It'll take a day or two."
Peres told the assembled reporters: "You wouldn't understand." He promised to announce his decision once he had completed his thought process.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met with Peres on Sunday; Peres told him that he was "too identified and too connected to Labor to be able to leave."
Sources close to Sharon told the Post that the prime minister preferred not to secure the number two slot in the Kadima list for Peres, but would do so if Peres demanded it as a specific condition for joining the party.
At the same time, Labor officials emphasized that Labor Chairman Amir Peretz would not agree to secure a place at the top of the Labor list for Peres.
Sharon sent adviser Uri Shani and Kadima MK Haim Ramon to meet with Peres on Friday and ask him to run with Kadima, or at least not to run with Labor.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Avishay Braverman called upon Peres to remain in Labor in a speech in Beersheba on Saturday. "Peres was born in Labor, lives in Labor and should stay in Labor," Braverman said.
Sources close to Peres said he would not decide his political future until the last minute and definitely not this coming week. If Peres decides not to run for Knesset, he would end a record-long tenure in the parliament that goes back to 1959.
Following his success in drafting Braverman to his party, Peretz met with former Labor and Center Party MK Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff.
Peretz, on Thursday, reportedly asked Rabin-Pelosoff to run for the Knesset with Labor and she said she would respond in the coming days. Rabin-Pelosoff, who currently heads the Yitzhak Rabin Center, would add her father's name and prestige to Labor's Knesset list.
Labor MKs complained over the weekend that the party's list was "getting crowded" with the additions of Braverman and former Shin-Bet chief Ami Ayalon and the possible addition of Rabin-Pelosoff.
Peretz kicked off Labor's campaign on Friday with a visit just outside the Carmel market in Tel Aviv. Peretz, who was accompanied by Labor MKs Isaac Herzog and Ephraim Sneh, was greeted with shouts that he would be the next prime minister. His security guards limited his contact with the people and prevented him from entering the market itself.
"Labor has become a party of the street," Peretz said. "Labor will no longer concede a single town, street or alleyway, because we are a party of the people - of all the people."
The first item on Peretz's agenda this week will be to appoint a campaign chairman, most likely Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel. The rest of Labor's MKs will be assigned regions of the country and cities where they will head the party's local campaigns.
Labor officials said its party's slogan would be "Forward to Labor," using the word kadima, the name of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's party, which means forward in Hebrew.
Labor announced Thursday night that 25,000 new people joined the party in a week-long membership drive that ended on Thursday. "With more time, 100,000 more people would have joined the party," Cabel said.
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