Some 30 percent of Israelis said that the departure of former Labor chairman Shimon Peres from the party and his announcement that he was supporting Kadima would increase their chances of voting for the newly formed party headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to a Haaretz-Dialog poll published Thursday.

In contrast, only 15 percent said the addition of Peres to Kadima would decrease their chances for supporting the party.

Examining the findings of the poll, supervised by Prof. Camil Fuchs, will help explain why it was so important for Sharon to recruit Peres. The survey, which was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday night, asked how Peres' departure from Labor and his decision to join Kadima would influence respondents' chances for voting for Sharon's party. The findings are unequivocal: As of now, Peres is of prime value to Sharon.

The results are even more surprising among those who voted for the Likud in the 2003 elections, 35 percent of whom said that the Peres factor would increase their chances of voting for Kadima. A similar percentage of Labor voters said the same thing.

According to the poll findings, a large majority of Israelis believe Sharon is the candidate most suited to fill the position of prime minister. (Click here for graph)

A massive 47 percent of those asked said Sharon was their favorite candidate in the prime ministerial race.

The newly elected Labor chairman, Amir Peretz, came in a distant second with some 18 percent.

Ten percent of respondents named former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) as most suitable, followed closely by his party colleagues, Shaul Mofaz and Silvan Shalom, with six and three percent respectively.

Peres will support PM Sharon in election At a special press conference Peres convened Wednesday, he stated that Sharon was the appropriate person to head a coalition of peace and security. He said he was supporting Sharon as the person who had the best chance of restarting the peace process with the Palestinians.

"In my opinion, the appropriate person to head the coalition that will bring peace is Arik Sharon," he said. "My party activities have concluded," he added.

"I held talks with him [Sharon] and I am convinced that he is determined to continue the peace process. I was informed that he is open to creative ideas to attain peace and security. I have decided to support him in the elections and to cooperate with him in attaining these goals."

"This is a difficult day for me in which I ask myself: What is the central issue standing before the state of Israel in the coming years and at present? I have no doubt that it is the unavoidable combination of peace and diplomatic advances. I ask myself how I can contribute in the coming years, and the answer is by advancing the peace process that will contribute to a thriving economy and social justice."

"It was not easy but I made the choice and decided," Peres, 82, said on his decision to leave the party he has been a member of for 46 years.

Labor MK: Peres' invented ideology is embarrassing Shimon Peres' announcement Wednesday evening of his resignation from the Labor Pary drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

"Peres' invented ideology is embarrassing and bizarre," Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines said Wednesday. "Labor is committed more than any other party to the peace process and Peres' attempt to tie his move to peace is pathetic."

Labor Party Secretary-General, MK Eitan Cabel, said in response, "It's a sad day when a leader that has received so much from the Labor Party abandons it just as it seems to have found a new hope."

Likud chairman, MK Gideon Sa'ar, said that the departure of Peres, "who symbolizes the Labor Party more than anyone else and is associated with the Oslo process and the left, is proof that [Kadima's] path is that of the left, and that voting for that party is the same as voting Labor."

Meretz-Yahad MK Ran Cohen said that Peres is not retiring for the good of the country or of peace, but to reap personal gain. He added that the only result would be the strengthening of the Likud.