The Undecideds Are Finally Deciding on Eve of Presidential Vote

Scampering from one Knesset faction office to another, the presidential candidates seemed to enter a new-age phase yesterday. Thus we found Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the head of the United Arab List (UAL) and the Islamic Movement's Sheikh Ibrahim Tsartsur discussing yoga and proper nutrition.

Tsartsur asked Peres what the source of his inner peace was, wondering whether he used Eastern practices. Peres replied that it all derived from the mind's control over the body. He explained it's easy to be healthy in Israel because of the superb fruit and vegetables.

Dr. Ahmed Tibi (UAL) said there were numerous viruses in the Knesset, but emphasized he was talking as a doctor, without intention to offend.

Some factions have large rooms and meeting halls. The small Arab factions have broom closets. Hadash chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh said he could not remember when so many journalists had crowded into the faction's office before. Hadash, like UAL, hosted the three candidates one by one. It was not difficult to see which Arab MKs would vote for Rivlin. Barakeh said Rivlin had been a good Knesset speaker. Tibi said four MKs in the room were familiar with the Koran, but only one (Rivlin) had a father who translated it. MK Talab Elsana (UAL) said Rivlin had been an excellent speaker. Rivlin urged them to support him.

Coming out of Meretz's office, Colette Avital said she had felt at home there. But when the faction's MKs emerged, they said that even Haim Oron, who is believed to be a Rivlin supporter, had hinted he would vote for Peres. The rumors that Meretz was split were premature, chairman Yossi Beilin said. According to faction members, four Meretz MKs are expected to vote for Peres, one for Avital. The female candidate's meeting with Hadash, however, went well. Asked whether Hadash would support Avital, Barakeh said: "You're not far from the truth." But Dov Khenin said it was a good thing there was a first round (meaning they could vote for Avital in the first round).

The factions that attracted the most media attention yesterday were the undecided ones. The Pensioners faction, for example. Both Rivlin and Avital hoped to receive their votes. Faction chairman Moshe Sharoni had signed an undertaking to vote for Avital, explaining it was because "We're both from the same village" (i.e. from Romania). Yesterday, Sharoni repeated that "the faction will vote as one. I'm sure everyone will honor the decision." A short time later, it transpired (as expected) that they would all vote for Peres. This was a blow for Rivlin that was almost as crushing as Shas' decision.

There is no doubt that this time Peres is really working hard, searching for every crack in the enemy's camp. Today, for example, he is to meet Yitzhak Levy of the National Union, although that party's faction officially decided to vote for Rivlin yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, Peres met Nissan Slomiansky from the same faction. Peres spokesman Yoram Dori said he was meeting anyone who might be persuaded to move to his side. The last to decide will be United Torah Judaism. They always make up their mind last, to avoid pressure, but this time it's also a sign of contempt. "It's a Zionist symbol we have no business with. We're not part of this festival," MK Moshe Gafni said.