Peres: I want to be president, not PM

Vice premier says he won't cooperate with MKs seeking to topple Olmert.

shimon peres 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shimon peres 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday night that he would seek the presidency, and not cooperate with MKs seeking to topple Olmert and have Peres replace him. Peres had said he would take his time before announcing his candidacy, but he was under pressure from Olmert and Knesset Speaker and Acting President Dalia Itzik to decide soon whether he would run. A long-awaited date for the end of the Moshe Katsav era was set on Wednesday when Itzik decided on a June 13 date for the presidential race, which she will formally announce next week. According to Knesset bylaws, MKs must announce their candidacy by submitting a form with 10 signatures to the Knesset Speaker at least 10 days before the election. As of Wednesday, there were two candidates: MKs Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Colette Avital (Labor). June 3 would be the last date for Peres, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau or Itzik to enter the race. In meetings with Olmert and former coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki on Wednesday, Peres said he wanted to know whether his victory would be guaranteed. Yitzhaki, who has endorsed Rivlin, said he would give Peres a list of which MKs he could count on. Peres's spokesman said the presidential race was the only issue discussed with Yitzhaki, who is trying to overthrow Olmert and replace him with Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. Rivlin accused Itzik of purposely delaying the announcement of a date for the race and choosing the latest date allowable by law, in order to give Peres more time to decide whether he would run and to allow her to remain acting president for as long as possible. "If I hadn't give her the forms, she would have waited until it was convenient for her to set the date," Rivlin said. "I knew she wouldn't give up [her post as acting president] a day before the last day." Rivlin met Wednesday morning with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and asked for his support. Shas chairman Eli Yishai said after the meeting that Yosef was still leaning toward supporting Peres if he runs, but Rivlin said he was optimistic. "It was a very good meeting and its results will be clear in the future," Rivlin said. "He knows me well and he expressed his admiration for me. I am in touch with him consistently and closely." Rivlin said he does not think his candidacy will be harmed by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's report released Wednesday that accused him of wasting public funds. He called the report "nonsense." Meanwhile, Avital garnered a number of surprising supporters Wednesday when she submitted her 10 signatures. In addition to Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano, Avital received the backing of Marina Solodkin (Kadima), Moshe Sharoni (Gil) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz). A Labor Party official said that Avital hoped to secure the support of her entire faction and the backing of the Labor central committee when it convenes on May 18. Several Labor MKs have expressed support for other candidates. "There is currently a process of reining in those MKs that think they are their own faction," said the official. "This party needs to start acting like we are all on the same team." One of those MKs, Shelly Yacimovich, was one of the signatories on Rivlin's presidential bill. Yacimovich has already expressed her strong support of Rivlin, calling him "the only serious candidate." On Tuesday, she issued a subtle threat to former chief Rabbi Lau, who has also said that he might run for president. Yacimovich hinted at certain "stories from the past" that could be brought to light if Lau ran for president. "I strongly recommend that Lau give up his candidacy," said Yacimovich, adding that he should do so in light of the circumstances surrounding Katsav's current legal problems. Other female MKs echoed Yacimovich's threat, saying that they too had heard stories from Lau's past that would make it "difficult" for him to be president. None of the MKs would provide evidence or further details about the allegations. Sources close to Lau accused Yacimovich of "stooping to extortion because the rabbi is rising in popularity." Katsav's term is formally set to end on July 15 when his successor would officially take over. The Knesset has already granted Katsav a suspension until that time so unless he decides to return to office, Itzik will continue to fulfill his presidential duties until then.•