Peres Pipes Up

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JERUSALEM: Shimon Peres on Tuesday broke his silence to blast the proposals of his successor, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. At a special session of parliament on Tuesday, Peres dismissed Netanyahu's offer to withdraw Israeli troops from Syria-controlled Lebanon in exchange for a secure border as "laughable." Peres also tore into Netanyahu for his unenthusiastic offers to the Palestinians, asking what Israel has to gain by insulting Yasser Arafat. The attack is just the sort of loyal opposition Peres is expected to provide; to date, he's been missing in action, letting other members of the party mount the offensive. "He's still head of the Labor Party, much to the dismay of younger leaders, who were expecting him to resign as party leader," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "After the May election, a lot of people thought his career would be over and he would retire gracefully." Peres has stayed on, waiting for a split in a fragile Netanyahu coalition that relies on the support of both religious and secular parties. If that coalition fails, Netanyahu may be forced to turn to the Labor Party as a partner, and Peres could become an influential Foreign Minister. His party would be content to celebrate him as an elder statesman. "He's perceived to be a loser," says Beyer. "He's never won an election for the Labor Party in five tries." A challenge to Peres' leadership probably will not come before next year, so his Labor colleagues have to hope Peres can keep Netanyahu's feet to the fire. -->