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Veteran MK Haim Ramon became the first Labor MK to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new party on Wednesday and he wasted no time before engaging in his first heated battle with the new chairman of his former party, Amir Peretz.
Peretz and Ramon, who were once political allies in Labor's young guard, had a falling out after they left the Knesset together in 1994 to head the Histadrut Labor Federation. More than a decade of built up animosity between the two men came out on the Knesset floor, just hours after Ramon had announced in a press conference that he had left Labor.
Ramon started the fight when he warned in his Knesset press conference that electing Peretz would be a disaster for the country. He said that working closely with four prime ministers taught him that experience was a key factor in determining whether a prime minister could be successful.
"Two inexperienced people became prime minister and nearly brought disaster to Israel," Ramon said, referring to Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. "Gambling on someone completely inexperienced to make the key decisions for Israel that prime ministers have to make would be irresponsible."
Peretz responded angrily in the Knesset plenum, accusing Ramon of sowing destruction in the Histadrut, the Labor Party and several governments. He predicted that Ramon would break up Sharon's new party within a year.
Ramon came to the plenum and responded that it was Peretz who tried to destroy Labor by forming the Am Ehad party that competed with Labor. He said that Peretz only came back to Labor after failing to obtain more than three mandates in two elections.
"After failing so badly he dares to say such things," Ramon said. "What does he think? That you are all stupid? That all of you have a memory disease?"
In the press conference, Ramon read an article he wrote in March about the need for realignment in Israeli politics. He said that the formation of Sharon's party would provide a much needed home for the majority of Israelis who consider themselves centrists.
"The party system until now was an anachronism that didn't properly reflect the present, let alone the future, so I worked hard to ensure that there would be a proper political map in Israel of Left, Right and Center" Ramon said. "There aren't 40 mandates in Israel for Binyamin Netanyahu or Uzi Landau but they took advantage of Sharon's centrism to get 40 mandates. Now that there is a proper political map, no one can get away with wearing the costume of a centrist."
Ramon said it was difficult for him to leave Labor after a lifetime of serving the party, but he said he decided that he had to support Sharon's efforts to draw a final border for the state. He revealed that he nearly quit politics two years ago, but he remained because Sharon's associates asked for his help in implementing the Gaza Strip withdrawal.
"I believe in the ability of Sharon to lead the country better than any other candidate," Ramon said. "He has the rare combination of the skills to lead and the ability to get things done."
On economic issues, Ramon attacked several candidates for Likud leader who have recently started raising the social affairs banner, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
"Suddenly everyone has become Robin Hood," Ramon said. "The streets of Israel are full of Robin Hoods."
Ramon decided to quit the cabinet on Wednesday along with the other Labor ministers because the Labor central committee had elected him to his post. But Sharon is likely to appoint Ramon back to the cabinet as soon as he can.
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