Economy Minister Amir Peretz, one of the top contenders to succeed Reuven Rivlin as president in the summer, announced Wednesday that he was quitting the race, departing the political sphere after decades as a lawmaker, minister and trade unionist.
The development means there are now two main candidates for president: Jewish Agency chief Yitzhak Herzog, a former Labor leader himself and the son of Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog; and Miriam Peretz, an educator and activist who became a prominent public figure after losing two soldier sons in battles in Lebanon and Gaza.
Herzog was believed to be the leading candidate even prior to Amir Peretz’s announcement.
The president, who is a largely ceremonial figure in Israel but has the power to task candidates to form a government and to grant pardons, is elected every seven years in a secret ballot among the 120 Knesset members.
“As someone whose name has been raised frequently in relation to the upcoming presidential race, I want to announce that after weighing the matter carefully I have decided not to run for the role,” Peretz wrote in a Facebook post.
He added that when a new government is sworn in and he is replaced as economy minister, he will quit politics and public service.
“When I end my current tenure I will want to embark on new paths and dedicate more time to my close family, something that was very hard for me to do during my 37 years in public service,” he wrote, thanking the public and politicians for their support.
Peretz, 69, led the Labor party until January. He announced then that he would not run for the Knesset in the March elections, amid intense criticism of his decision to join the Netanyahu-led government after vowing not to do so, and with polls showing Labor failing to enter the Knesset. At the time he was the longest-serving MK, having served continuously since 1988 except a three-month break at the end of 2012.
Peretz was succeeded by Merav Michaeli, who managed to nab the party seven seats at the polls.
He was the mayor of Sderot from 1983 to 1988, and headed the Histadrut trade union organization between 1995 and 2005. He served over the years as defense minister, environmental protection minister and opposition chief.
In his Facebook post, Peretz said he “had the honor to contribute to Israel’s security, society and laborers. I intend to give from myself for the benefit of the Israeli public in any place I’ll be.”
He concluded his post by wishing luck to the presidential contenders, saying that in light of the current extended political crisis they will have “much work to do for the national reconciliation and healing that is so necessary at this time.”