Also, the ultra-Orthodox have identified more with the Likud’s foreign policy in recent years, and many see Katsav — who himself is religiously observant — as the more sympathetic candidate.
Peres has had a topsy-turvy political career, holding nearly all of Israel’s top jobs over the years, but also losing four of five elections for prime minister.
He served as prime minister three times, twice succeeding his longtime political rival, Yitzhak Rabin, and once in a rotation agreement after a deadlocked election. He is seen both as a visionary marching far ahead of his people and a merciless politician.
In 1993, Peres was the driving force behind Israel’s breakthrough agreement of mutual recognition with the PLO, and he negotiated subsequent interim peace agreements.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report