Peres to Leave Israel's Labor Party

Israeli media is reporting that Shimon Peres plans to leave the Labor Party, ending six decades of affiliation. The 82-year-old former prime minister was ousted as the party's leader earlier this month. Peres is expected to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima Party.

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Another leading Israeli politician is leaving his political party. This time, Shimon Peres plans to leave the Labor Party, ending six decades of affiliation. Israeli media report on the decision by the 82-year-old former Israeli prime minister. Since Peres was ousted as the Labor Party leader earlier this year, there's been considerable speculation in Israel that he would join forces with Israel's current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who last week left his own party, the Likud Party, to form a new political movement. NPR's Linda Gradstein has been tracking these developments in Jerusalem.

And, Linda, is this movement by Peres a surprise?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, not really. I mean, once Peres was voted out of the Labor Party, where he's been a Knesset member, a member of parliament since 1959, a lot of Israeli analysts thought that it was pretty much inevitable that he would leave. He's apparently very bitter. He's the one who brought in Amir Peretz, the trade union leader, who succeeded him in Labor. He brought him in apparently with the promise not to run against him, and politics being politics, Amir Peretz ran against Peres and won, and after that happened, a lot of analysts thought it was only a matter of time. Peres has always said that he is interested in advancing the peace process, and it's likely that Prime Minister Sharon will give Peres responsibility for doing that.

INSKEEP: So he was voted out of the leadership of his old party. He's moving now to a new platform here, and what is he going to stand for now?

GRADSTEIN: Well, first of all, he's probably not going to run for the parliament. He's probably going to be either a Cabinet minister or some sort of special envoy in charge of the peace process. Peres and Prime Minister Sharon have been close friends for decades, even though they've also been political rivals for decades. And yet Peres has always said that he believes that there should be an independent Palestinian state, and now it seems that Ariel Sharon is coming around to Peres' way of thinking and that Peres will do whatever he can to advance the peace process. I mean, he says he's devoted his life to that, and even though he's 82 years old, he says he's still got a lot left in him and he intends to, you know, keep working towards that goal.

INSKEEP: Amazing the two largest parties, correct, in Israel have now been really shaken up by developments in recent weeks. Is this a complete realignment of Israeli politics?

GRADSTEIN: In a lot of ways, it is. There were sort of two parties, you know, Labor and Likud, and they had actually been kind of moving towards each other. There is a growing consensus, certainly among the Israeli public, in favor of the Israeli pullout from Gaza, which happened this summer, and in favor of a further Israeli pullout from at least part of the West Bank. What seems to be happening now is that Sharon's former party, the Likud, is moving towards the right. One of the main contenders for leadership is former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's really a hard-liner on these issues. The Labor Party is moving more towards the left. Amir Peretz is a Social Democrat, wants to bring back the safety net, all these kinds of things, and there's a sort of new political centrist movement, headed by Sharon and likely Peres, that seems to be capturing the Israeli center, so it is really a complete realignment.

INSKEEP: Linda, thanks.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Linda Gradstein reporting from Jerusalem.

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