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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Shimon Peres's younger brother, Gigi, lashed out at Labor Chairman Amir Peretz on Monday morning, accusing Peretz and his associates of taking over the party like "General Franco took over Spain."
According to Peres, "The Falangists who came from southern Spain, came to Madrid as a fifth column and destroyed the republic. This game is totally transparent; One Nation people from northern Africa took over and shot them in the back."
In response to the attack, Shimon Peres's office issued a statement rejecting Gigi Peres's remarks. "These comments were said without the knowledge of Shimon Peres. The comparison is unnecessary and inappropriate," it read.
Peretz associate MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) demanded that Gigi Peres issue an apology. "Not me nor my friends are willing to accept a situation in which anyone would talk about us in terms of Falangists. No one here is Falanga, no matter where he's from. Gigi should apologize, not only to us and our voters, but especially to Shimon for associating him with this grave injustice."
Gigi later apologized in an interview with Channel 2 TV.
"I'm very, very sorry for what has happened," he said.
Shimon Peres, meanwhile, is expected to announce his departure of the Labor Party upon his return from Barcelona on Wednesday. According to Israel Radio, if indeed Peres proceeds as expected, he would not formally join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new party, but he would support Kadima from outside, and would be appointed Sharon's special representative for peace negotiations.
Sharon spoke to Peres more than once on Sunday and he offered him to return to his cabinet post of vice premier with additional responsibility over negotiations with the Palestinians and the peace process. If Peres accepts the deal, he would not run for the next Knesset, ending a record-long tenure in the parliament that goes back to 1959.
Even after Peres's brother's comments, Peretz continued to call for the elder statesman to remain in the Labor Party.
"Stay at home, don't let them drag you, join us for a revolution," Peretz said to the former party head on Monday afternoon.
Earlier, Peretz had promised to "do everything possible to make Peres a part of our return to power."
"I am sure that this is one of the dreams that Peres still wants to achieve," he added.
"The decision is a tough one for me," Peres told reporters on Sunday at a meeting with Belgian government officials organized by the World Jewish Congress at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel. "There are many things that I am considering, historical and otherwise. It will take another day or two before I decide. It's very personal for me."
A Labor official who spoke to Peres on Sunday said that he was still angry about his surprise loss to Peretz in the Labor leadership race and steamed at Peretz for refusing to reserve the second slot on the Labor list for him after initially offering him the slot. Peretz said the only slot he could give him was the symbolic 120th slot. Sources close to Peretz said that he decided against promoting Peres at the expense of his allies, because he believes that Peres would have rejected the offer and joined Kadima.
"My impression was that Peres will decide to leave Labor," an official who spoke to Peres said. "It was clear from what he told me that he is leaning against remaining in the party."
Peres met late Sunday with Sharon adviser Uri Shani, who reportedly told Peres that he might not even have to join Kadima for the deal to work. He would only have to praise Sharon during the campaign and decline to seek a Knesset seat with Labor.
Sharon reportedly offered to back Peres in a race for president of Israel in two years against Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Peretz said he offered to appoint Peres to the symbolic role of party president and as a minister if Labor wins the election.
Former Labor chairman Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met with Peres on Sunday morning and pleaded with him to stay in Labor. Ben-Eliezer said that Peres was too inter-connected with Labor to consider leaving.
Sources close to Peres said that the decision is still "cooking in Peres's mind." They said that it would be easier for him to accept the offer if Sharon also gives a good slot on the Kadima list to Peres's ally, Labor MK Dalia Itzik. Sharon's relationship with Itzik deteriorated a year ago when Itzik accused Sharon of corruption.
While Peretz declined to reserve a slot on the Labor list for Peres, he was willing to do so for Meimad MK Michael Melchior. Peretz offered Melchior the tenth slot on the Labor list, continuing a partnership that started in 1999 under former Labor chairman Ehud Barak. Meimad's council met for more than three hours on Sunday night in Ramat Efal and was expected to accept Peretz's offer.