Raz: Peres' move could help peace process
Raz: "Sharon can expect a boost from Peres' decision to back his continued premiership."
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Veteran Israeli politician and former prime minister Shimon Peres has left his Labor Party and offered support to former rival Ariel Sharon. CNN's Jerusalem correspondent Guy Raz assesses what led to the move and what effect it may have on Israeli politics and the peace process.
QUESTION: Why has Shimon Peres decided to ditch his Labor Party?
RAZ: Peres was ousted as party chief in a party vote last month. The new leader, Amir Peretz, has signaled that Peres will not have a major role in the next administration if his Labor Party wins enough seats to form the next Israeli government. (Full story)
QUESTION: Will Peres join Ariel Sharon's new centrist movement?
RAZ: It's unlikely he will formally sign on, but Peres will probably endorse Sharon's premiership in exchange for a senior role in the next Sharon-led government. Speculation is that Peres will become Sharon's chief peace negotiator and coordinator.
QUESTION: Aren't Peres and Sharon on opposite sides of the political spectrum?
RAZ: Yes and that hasn't changed. But the two men are both part of Israel's "founding generation" and they've been good friends for decades. Both Peres, who is 82, and Sharon, who is 77, have little faith in the new generation of Israeli leaders. They believe together they can secure some kind of agreement with Palestinians over the establishment of two states.
QUESTION: But isn't Peres' vision radically different from Sharon's?
RAZ: Yes and no. Peres would prefer that Israel withdrew from all the territory it occupied during the 1967 war. Sharon prefers to hold onto the major Israeli settlement blocs inside the West Bank -- accounting for about 12 percent of the land. Ultimately, both men share the broad goal of securing permanent borders for both Israel and the future Palestinian state.
QUESTION: Does Peres' support help Sharon?
RAZ: Yes. Primarily with upper-middle class voters who may be reluctant to vote for Sharon but trust Peres' judgment. Sharon can expect a boost from Peres' decision to back his continued premiership.
QUESTION: What effect does Peres' move have on Israeli politics?
RAZ: It's more symbolic rather than tangible. Peres is a life-long Labor man. He was an aide-de-camp to Israel's founding prime minister and Labor Party icon, David Ben-Gurion. Peres leaving Labor is as dramatic as Sharon's decision to leave the right-wing Likud. But in real terms, it has less of an impact because once Peres was ousted as party leader, his influence in Labor was dramatically reduced.
QUESTION: Will it affect the peace process?
RAZ: Yes. Israel is now approaching an election with three, very clear choices: a hard-right Likud Party, a hard-left Labor Party, and a broadly centrist Sharon party (now called Kadima). All polls indicate the hard right will be trounced, leaving Labor and Kadima to form the next government. Both of these parties favor dialogue and negotiations with the Palestinians and both parties, broadly, share similar goals of establishing a permanent settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shimon Peres has always insisted he doesn't care which party rules ... so long as it is a party prepared to resolve the conflict through negotiations. That was the main reason why he chose to work with Ariel Sharon in the last Israeli government. And it's the main reason he is prepared to work with Sharon again.
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