Peres declares he will not quit as head of Labor Party

JERUSALEM — Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres says he will not resign as head of the Labor Party and will try to rehabilitate the party before it holds a leadership primary within the year.

In his appearance Thursday of last week before Labor's political bureau, which met to discuss the election results, Peres suggested setting up a shadow cabinet based on the British model, to provide an alternative to the government and to be a fighting opposition.

In a soul-searching speech analyzing the election, Peres stressed his responsibility, but noted that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad played roles in determining the election results.

He also admitted that he "was too influenced by the public opinion polls, which until almost the last day gave us a 4 percent to 5 percent advantage and dictated our behavior during the campaign. But on the last day there emerged previously unknown forces," he added, making an apparent reference to Chabad and the settlers.

"I may have lost the elections, but I did not lose the cause. Personally, from Dimona [where he founded the Nuclear Research Center] to Oslo, I have nothing to regret. We created a revolution which the nation will never forget. Perhaps I lost the elections because at times I went too far, too fast."

Peres revealed that his decision to advance the elections followed the realization that peace with Syria would not be achieved by the end of the year.

"Both the Americans and the Syrians said, `Let's finish the negotiations and reach an agreement by November,' and I agreed to wait until then before holding the elections. I sent a message to Syrian President Hafez Assad and said, `If you really want to do it, you must come to the negotiations yourself. Let me know you're serious and will meet me every week if necessary until we reach an agreement,'" Peres said.

Assad agreed to meet him, but would not give a date, Peres said. "I knew then it would be a terrible mistake to enter an election campaign without knowing whether there is a partner or a plan."

Peres said he was never one to run away from responsibility and will therefore stay at Labor's helm to pull the party together.

"I don't blame anyone and [I] demand nothing from anybody. It is clear to me that we need to change the party structure. After the results of the elections, we cannot return to what has been," he said.