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Peres quits Labor Party, backs Sharon

Sharon's Kadima meets, endorses peaceful Palestinian state

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and Shimon Peres, right, in the Knesset in this February 2005 photo.


Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres resigned Wednesday from the Labor Party and endorsed his former rival, Ariel Sharon, in the upcoming race for prime minister.

While supporting Sharon, Peres will not run for another term in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

At a news conference, Peres said he had talked with Sharon about the peace process and economic development of a triangle that includes Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian regions. (Read why correspondent Raz says the move could help peace)

Peres was recently defeated by Amir Peretz in elections for Labor Party chairman. Peres, 82, has been a pillar of Labor for decades. (Watch as Peres leaves the Labor Party -- 2:17)

During that time he and Sharon have been political rivals, but they've been personal friends since the 1950s.

Last week, Sharon left the Likud Party -- which he helped found in the 1970s -- and announced the creation of a new party, called Kadima -- officially separating himself from those in Likud who protested his pullout of Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza.

Israeli elections will be held March 28 to choose a new Knesset and a prime minister.

At a news conference after his announcement, Sharon said he thought Peres was considering quitting politics after his Labor defeat, but he was lavish in his praise of Peres, whom he said he has known since the 1950s.

The Kadima Party met Monday and laid out its central principles publicly for the first time.

The announcement brought few surprises. The principles put forth Monday have long been espoused by Sharon and his supporters.

Sharon's move, which was widely expected, revolutionizes the Israeli political scene. Kadima, which means "Forward," is expected to end the longtime dominance of two parties in Israeli politics, Likud and the left-leaning Labor.

"Israel is a Jewish, democratic country," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Monday, laying out Kadima's main principles at the party meeting.

"The people of Israel have a national and historic right to the land of Israel," Livni said. "Because there is a need for Israel to remain a Jewish majority, we will have to give up part of the land of Israel in order to maintain a democratic, Jewish state."

She added that the party supports "the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel."

"The Palestinians will have to commit to dismantle the terror organizations, collect illegal arms and carry out security reforms," Livni said. "Israel will keep the major settlement blocks, and Jerusalem will remain unified."

She said political settlements will be based on the road map for Middle East peace backed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

The new party's principles overlap in several cases with those of Labor and Likud. But Kadima positions itself as a centrist alternative and has attracted prominent members of both camps.

Livni vowed that Kadima "will work to alter the method of governance in Israel."

Kadima officials cautioned that the party is in its infancy, and its platform may grow and change.

Polls taken last week suggested that if the elections took place immediately, Kadima would win the most seats in the 120-member Knesset.

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