Sharon offers Peres defense post, radio reports
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon has offered Labor Party patriarch Shimon Peres the post of defense minister in a unity government, Israeli Radio reported Wednesday.
The move followed the announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak that he will not serve in that post and will, instead, fulfill his pledge to "step away" from politics -- resigning from both the Knesset and as chairman of the Labor Party.
Peres is seen as Israel's elder statesman, sometimes stepping in as a mediator during standoffs within Israeli politics and between Israel and the Palestinians.
The 77-year-old former prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been one of the leading members of the Labor Party during the past three decades. He failed to win Israel's presidency in July, some calling him a serial loser after his record fifth defeat at the polls. But many see Peres' seniority as making him a suitable candidate to serve as Labor's temporary chief.
Barak's decision to resign, delivered in a bitter letter to Sharon, reverses an agreement he had made with Sharon five days earlier to form a national unity government. Barak accused Sharon, the leader of the Likud Party, of reneging on how the new government would be formed.
Barak had been under mounting pressure in recent days to step aside from any leadership position within his party. Many Labor members said his crushing loss earlier this month to Sharon discredited him as a political leader.
The Labor Party is scheduled to meet Monday to consider who it wants as a leader and whether it wants to join Sharon's coalition. Most members seem to favor that idea, but there is a vocal minority opposed to the move.
Sharon has until March 29 to form a new government. Once he does, Barak resigns as prime minister, and Sharon will take office.
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