Source: Sharon to ‘close ranks’

As fears rise following election of Amir Peretz as Labor leader, prime minister will attempt to reunite party in upcoming Likud meeting; Peretz says Israel’s ‘real strategic threat is economic, not security based’ Attila Somfalvi Political sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Ynet Tuesday that a Likud fmeeting scheduled for Wednesday will aim to get Likud members to „close ranks” behind the prime minister. A Sharon aide told Ynet the meeting is expected to be calm, following the election of Amir Peretz as new Labor party leader, and the subsequent fears in the ruling party of losing mandates in the next general elections. However, Likud is having a hard time persuading Likud rebels to go on record as willing to back Sharon. „We will present the prospect of bringing forward the elections to the fmembers, and we want to hear which dates are suitable for them. We want to hear from them,” one source from the Prime Minister’s Office said. The source ruled out the possibility that the rebels will wave the white flag during the meeting. „As long as Landau is speaking as he is, it’s hard to see white flags (being put up by the rebels),” he said. „We’d prefer elections in May” Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz and Opposition Chairman Yosef Lapid agreed Tuesday to offer March 7 as an election date to Sharon. However, a Likud source said Knesset Members and ministers prefer the month of May as a general elections date. The Likud would rather gain time by pushing the date back, and a later date would enable them to wear down Peretz. Likud sources fear that Peretz would enjoy his current momentum. It is not yet clear whether the Likud party will succeed in its bid to unite its ranks, but a „relative quiet” has taken hold of the party and the Knesset. Sharon is set to meet with Peretz and Lapid Thursday. The opposition chairman has already stated he will not lead his party, Shinui, into the government in order to replace Labor and rescue the current government. Despite the declaration, the Likud is expected to try to convince Lapid to join the coalition, and are encouraged by his unwillingness to vote in favor of the no-confidence vote on Wednesday. Peretz: Real threat is economic, not security The Labor Party fwill meet Sunday afternoon in Tel Aviv to decide whether to leave the government. Speaking in Eilat Tuesday, Pererz said that „our social agenda will continue being the leading platform of the Labor party in our elections campaign.” The new Labor leader, who was received with warm applause, said jokingly, „I must be careful now. They tell me that every word I utter can raise or bring down the stock market, so I’ll communicate with hints.” He added that „in the next elections, the citizens will not only know who they are voting for, they will know what they are voting for too. The real strategic threat to Israel is not the security threat, but economic gaps. And I’m very happy that wealthy people see themselves as part of the struggle. Because this country is also theirs.” The Labor fanonymously adopted a decision to „end cooperation with the Likud and to leave the Sharon government. The party chairman is authorized to enter into dialogue with other parties, in order to find an agreed elections date suitable for the country.”