peres quits 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) accused former prime minister and outgoing Labor Party leader Shimon Peres of taking revenge against the party that was his home for 61 years. He expressed great sadness at the careers that he claimed were destroyed in order to advance Peres's career.
The former interior minister was incredulous at Peres's announcement. "What would you tell all the people who supported you?" he asked, addressing Peres through an Army Radio interview.
"Labor is the peace party, and Peres saying he left Labor for peace is pathetic," Paz-Pines said. "It's unfortunate that, after Peres did so much for the state, he will be remembered for abandoning his political home for a party of careerists and people with personal interests."
Paz-Pines said Wednesday that Peres's claims of leaving Labor for ideological reasons were "shameful and delusional and no one will buy them."
Peres ended weeks of speculation about his political future when he announced on Wednesday that he had decided to retire from the Knesset, endorse Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and join his attempt to bring about Middle East peace.
If Sharon is re-elected as prime minister, Peres is to serve as a senior minister in charge of peace talks with the Palestinians and developing the Galilee and Negev regions. He does not intend to seek a Knesset seat with Sharon's new Kadima party, ending a record 46 years in the Knesset.
Following his return from Spain on Wednesday, Peres called Sharon to inform him of his decision and they agreed to hold a joint press conference on Sunday. Peres read his page-long, prepared statement to a room full of reporters in his Tel Aviv office.
"In the current political structure, advancing the peace process is possible only through a coalition for peace and development and in my view the man best suited to lead such a coalition, based on proven results, is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Peres said.
"I spoke with Mr. Sharon and I am convinced that he is determined, as I am, to continue with the peace process and restart it immediately after the elections. He is open to creative ideas for achieving peace and security. I decided therefore to support his election and cooperate with him to realize these goals."
Peres, 82, said that it was difficult for him to leave the Labor Party 61 years after joining it as a youth leader. He told his associates that, following his loss to Amir Peretz in the November 9 Labor leadership race, he was disgusted by party politics and he could no longer remain in Labor.
"I found myself faced with a contradiction between the party of which I am a member and the realities of the political situation," Peres said. "Without ignoring the deep connection that I have to the party's historical path and its members, I must prefer the more urgent and greater consideration."
Crediting his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, for teaching him to put his country before his party, Peres said, "My party activity has come to an end."
He vowed to dedicate the remaining years of his life to peacemaking and developing the Negev and the Galilee.
The departure of its elder statesman was a blow to Labor. Peretz made a last-ditch effort to convince Peres not to leave the party, sending him an offer via former MK Nissim Zvili of a senior portfolio in a Labor-led government - an offer Peres's associates said was "too little, too late."
"I made every effort for Peres to be part of the revolution," Peretz said. "Labor is Peres's home. Labor is the place where the social-democratic outlook and peace can be achieved."
Sharon's associates said that Kadima would use Peres to attract Labor voters who, like Peres, feel that they no longer saw Labor as their political home. They said that Kadima's campaign would highlight Sharon and Peres's decades of experience and compare it to the inexperience of Peretz.
Responding to charges that Peres would scare right-of-center away voters from Kadima, a Sharon associate said, "Peres has joined us, not the other way around, and he has to accept our platform."
Politicians from across the political spectrum attacked Peres for his decision.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said, "I have no doubt that Likud voters will prefer the nationalist, security path of Likud over a list that includes Peres and former ministers Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik, who were among the leaders of the Oslo process and the path back to 1967 borders."
Likud leadership candidate Uzi Landau said that Peres joining Sharon's government would bring together all the disengagement and Oslo supporters to give the land of Israel away together.
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said that "Peres was right to leave the ideological supermarket of Labor, but he made a grave mistake when he joined the new supermarket of Sharon, who is selling only goods whose expiration date has passed."