Adviser to Vice Premier Peres: Quit the Race for President

The presidential campaign adviser to Vice Premier Shimon Peres this weekend told his client to withdraw his candidacy.

Eyal Arad explained that Peres is unlikely to obtain the necessary votes in a secret ballot, and that a defeat would disgrace his public and international image. A further obstacle to a Peres win is the candidacy of MK Collette Avital, on behalf of the Labor Party.

Peres has not yet formally announced his candidacy, but such an announcement seems likely. Over the weekend his aides decided to begin canvassing MKs in hopes of obtaining the necessary majority. The Knesset campaign will coincide with a public campaign, which the vice premier's staff believes will add to the pressure on MKs.

The primary task facing Peres and his aides is winning the support of Shas. The party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has not yet issued a ruling on the ballot. Despite his personal affection for Peres, Yosef's decision, according to party officials, will be based on practical rather than sentimental considerations, and that Shas MKs will vote for the candidate who can win.

Aides to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are pressuring Peres to announce his decision as soon as possible. Kadima wants sufficient lead time to support another candidate (most likely, Knesset Speaker MK Dalia Itzik) if Peres walks away. MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) yesterday called on Peres to announce. His decades of public experience and his high recognition factor at home and abroad will help to rehabilitate the institution of the presidency, she said.

The staff of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau denied reports that he will not compete for the presidency. "The rabbi has no yet indicated whether or not he will run," aides said.

The only two official candidates so far are Avital and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud).

Yair Ettinger contributed to this article.