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Peres urged to make run for Israeli prime minister

- Associated Press - Monday, November 5, 2012

JERUSALEM — The dim prospects for Israel's dovish opposition in upcoming elections are raising speculation that 89-year-old President Shimon Peres may make one last run to be prime minister.

Mr. Peres is under pressure from political allies to seek the premiership, according to officials in his office. For now, they say, he has no plans of stepping down from his largely low-key, ceremonial post.

The overtures to Mr. Peres reflect the Nobel laureate's late-career popularity and the dearth of viable challengers in Israel's fragmented opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hopes for a Peres candidacy are "an act of desperation," said political scientist Avraham Diskin.

"It shows that there is a large vacuum in the center. They're unable to join ranks, so they're looking for miracles," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu, already riding high in the polls, recently tried to solidify his bid for re-election by joining forces with his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

Running on a joint list, Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party and Mr. Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu are expected to win more than 40 parliamentary seats in the Jan. 22 election. Together they would form by far the largest faction in the 120-seat parliament and put Mr. Netanyahu in a strong position for another term as prime minister.

The partnership has fueled calls for centrist parties to band together.

Polls show a unified bloc of the Labor, Kadima, Yesh Atid and Independence parties could rival Mr. Netanyahu's conservative bloc. A poll in the Yediot Ahronot daily Friday found that a center-left coalition plus parties representing Israel's Arabs could win 59 seats, almost enough to block Mr. Netanyahu. The poll by the Dahaf agency questioned 500 people and had a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

While the centrist parties share similar ideologies, particularly a softer line toward peacemaking with the Palestinians, their leaders have shown little interest in unifying. Mr. Peres could be one of the few figures capable of rallying those parties behind him. He also may be best-positioned to do so.

Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, another potential heavyweight candidate, is in the midst of a bribery trial and has not decided whether to seek office again.

Mr. Peres brings to the table a resume that is unmatched.

After more than six decades in politics, he is the ultimate political survivor, with the gravitas to take on Mr. Netanyahu. Winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Peres mingles among the world's rich and famous, receiving warm welcomes at conferences and ceremonies around the globe. He has a good relationship with both the Palestinians and the White House.

An official in Mr. Peres' office said that over the past few weeks, a number of operatives with ties to centrist parties, as well as retired military officials, approached him about leading a unified bloc. The official declined to identify the people who had spoken to Mr. Peres, and he spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

While describing the pressure as "heavy," the official said Mr. Peres has no intention of leaving the presidency, saying he was committed to finishing the remaining two years of his term.

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