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Political Waves in Israel

The big news here in Israel has been Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to leave the Likud party, and form his own centrist party.

 

Sharon met with President Katsav, informing him that he intends to dissolve the Knesset, and then promptly resigned from the Likud. He is slated to hold a press conference 7:30 tonight. According to Israeli law, the elections will be held some time in March (i.e within 90 days. See update below).

 

Sharon just held the first meeting with prospective members of his new political party, called “National Responsibility” (Ahrayut Leumit). According to Ha’aretz, it is expected to attract 12 to 14 Likud Knesset members, including Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Ministers Avraham Hirschon, Meir Sheetrit and Gideon Ezra.

 

As for the Likud, Likud Central Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi will take over the party chairmanship. Israel radio has reported that he will convene the Central Committee on Thursday in order to vote for a new Chairman. The contenders will likely include Benjamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz.

 

Reactions from Political Figures 

 

Likud

“The manner in which the news of Sharon’s decision to quit Likud was delivered is inappropriate. Likud was there before Sharon and will remain after him… I regret his decision to quit. Likud will organize itself and elect a leader as soon as possible. I see myself as a candidate, as I said earlier. Unfortunately, no one knows the motives and no one was consulted”

– Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz

“[Likud is a] national movement with a glorious past, present, and future. From this moment on, the Likud will only get stronger.”

– Likud MK Ayoob Kara

“I am staying in Likud and I call on the prime minister to stay in Likud, because only a united Likud will win the elections.”

– Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz

“The Likud is about to embark on a new path, a difficult path. Now that Sharon is leaving us, so too is the corruption. The Likud can now return to its core: the land of Israel, clean politics and social sensitivity.”

– MK Uzi Landau

“Sharon understood that he was going in a direction that the Likud couldn’t accept, both politically and in his taking of independent initiatives, and now he’s chosen a very risky path..There must be elections as soon as possible.”

– Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin

“Now it is a drama, in another four months it will seem much less dramatic.”

– Likud lawmaker Yuli Edelstein.

 

Shinui (Center)

“Sharon quit the Likud for personal reasons, but he will not help the middle class, won’t fight religious coercion, and won’t act against corruption. Only Shinui will do that.”

– Shinui leader and opposition chairman Yosef (Tommy) Lapid

 

Labor (Left of Center)

“There is no doubt that Sharon reached a conclusion by which with the current Likud, he couldn’t have moved even one step forward. I hope that the party that would gain most by this would be the Labor party.”

– Labor Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer

 

Far-Left

“The split in the Likud creates a real opportunity for a coalition headed by the peace camp along with former Likud MKs who have finally understood that for 38 years they misled the nation and themselves and that the dream of the undivided land is a false one and is dangerous.”

– Meretz-Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin

 

Right-Wing

“A new large right wing party must be created in order to defeat Sharon. We must prepare for the possibility that the Likud has been weakened. In such a case, such a party would win 45 mandates and Sharon’s party would all but diminish.”

– Chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, MK Avigdor Lieberman

“The Likud is witnessing his captain abandon ship after he had already damaged its ideological platform and has moved to blow some wind in the left wing’s sale.”

– MK Effie Eitam (National Union)

 

Arab Reactions

“We, in the Palestinian leadership, are watching carefully the unfolding political developments [in Israel] to see its consequences on the peace process.”

– Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Sha’ath said Monday.

“I’ve never seen anything of this significance. I hope that when the dust settles, we will have a partner in Israel to go to the end game, toward the end of conflict, toward a final agreement.”

– Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

 

Blogosphere Reactions

 

Shaister: “Interesting days to come”

 

Allison: [The elections] “are going to be messy, complicated, confusing elections that everyone is going to have to tune in to the news in order to figure out.”

 

Cosmic X: “My guess is that the next Prime Minister of Israel will be the head of the Likud party, and that Ariel Sharon will have a lot of time to spend with his grandchildren.”

 

Jewlicious: “I think Sharon has made a mistake. He should have stuck it out and fought inside the Likud, especially now that Labor is run by a man who will express values that are significantly different than the Likud’s.”

 

Meryl Yourish: “It is rather strange to be thinking of Ariel Sharon as a centrist, but the man is an incredibly astute politician. I’m saying right now that he’s going to come through this crisis as Prime Minister, again.”

 

Bloghead: “The question now is this. Several senior Likud ministers have committed to come with him. Now, at the moment of truth, how many members of other parties are going to come too, particularly following the recent changes in the Labour party?”

 

Head Heeb: “This is probably the most tactically advantageous time for Sharon to quit. Amir Peretz has already brought down the government, so he won’t be blamed for doing so. His position as party leader is secure, so he can give the impression of jumping rather than being pushed, and an election next March will give his party time enough to organize but not time enough to dissipate. Nevertheless, forming a third party in Israel is always a risky venture.”

 

The Last Amazon: “He really had no choice if he was to remain relevant in Israeli political circles.”

 

Harry: “The creation of a centrist party without the anti-religious banter and sans a cantankerous leader is the death knell for the secular party…It’s mindblowing that the political landscape of a country can completely change within a week.”

 

More Analysis

 

Attila Somfalvi (Ynet): Peretz, Lapid and Shinui are the main losers of Sharon’s decision

 

Gideon Alon (Ha’aretz): Sharon’s heading for 21 nerve-racking days

 

Aluf Benn (Ha’aretz): Leaving the Likud – no one tried to make him stay

 

Yossi Verter (Ha’aretz): Ariel Sharon’s new faction is a one-term party

 

Updates

 

3:15PM

 

Already, the tactical games are in full swing. Some Likud ministers want the Knesset to dissolve the government, and not President Katsav. This would result in March 28th elections, rather than elections on March 6th.

 

Sharon clearly wants earlier elections, but the issue has further reaching ramifications.

Another reason Sharon is pressing Katsav to disperse the Knesset is that, according to law, if the president dissolves the Knesset, a prime minister has an unlimited right to dismiss or replace ministers in his cabinet. If Katsav does indeed disperse the Knesset as he indicated he would do, Sharon would then be able to award those who would join his new party with cabinet posts.

 

However, if the Knesset dissolves itself, the law states, a prime minister cannot reshuffle his cabinet in any way. In that case, the government would be left with only six ministers until the elections, as Labor ministers would quit and so too would Likud ministers who oppose Sharon.

 

That means that Ehud Olmert, whose current titles include vice prime minister, finance minister, minister of industry, trade and labor, and the minister in charge of the Israel Lands Administration, could soon gain more portfolios.

3:40PM: Reuters can’t resist using the tried and tested metaphor for Sharon:

 

 

3:45PM: CNN characterize Sharon’s decision as “an odd move for the longtime hawk who, at 77, has become something of a political pragmatist”

 

3:55PM: Sharon and his new party have already met. So far, the following 11 Likud ministers have joined the new party:

  • Ariel Sharon

  • Omri Sharon

  • Vice Premier Ehud Olmert

  • Justice Minister Tzipi Livni

  • Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit

  • Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra

  • Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson

  • Ruhama Avraham

  • Eli Aflalo

  • Ze’ev Boim

  • Marina Solodkin.

     

    MK Majallie Whbee also intends to join.

     

    The Jerusalem Post reports that:

    Sharon added that his new party would adhere to the road map peace plan, and fight a non-stop battle against terrorism. He stressed that there would not be any further unilateral withdrawals.

    This is no different to anything he was saying in Likud. Or is it?
  • Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to resign from the Likud indicates his intention to carry out far-reaching diplomatic moves in what would be his final term as premier should he win re-election, Sharon associates said Sunday.

     

    If Sharon had no intention of going beyond the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, aides say, he would have stayed in the Likud “and be on the safe side.”

     

    The prime minister’s decision to leave the party testifies to a significant about-face in his ideology, which is likely to include favoring the evacuation of most or all isolated settlements in the West Bank, Sharon’s aides said.

    4:15PM: Yet more tactics:

    Sharon’s new party aims to attract 14 Likud MKs, which would then grant it the status of “breakaway faction,” and entitle it to some of the Likud’s state funding.

    5:35PM: Ya’akov Edri and Roni Bar-On have now also joined, bringing the number of Likud ministers to defect to the new party to 13, one short of the magic 14 number.

     

    6:20PM: Things get decidedly nasty (if they hadn’t already):

    The head of the Likud secretariat, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, instructed the Likud administration to issue restraining orders to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and all the members of his new party to prevent them from approaching the Likud headquarters.

     

    “The democratic process and reason do not permit the Likud to allow people with interests against the Likud in its proximity. The Likud will protect itself and its identity,” said Katz.

    Now that’s what I call restraint.

     

    8:25PM: Sharon has had his press conference, at which he explained his decision to leave Likud.

    In a press conference Monday evening, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he decided to leave the Likud and “give the people of Israel hope,” noting that staying in the ruling party would have been a “waste of time.”

     

    “After great difficulties I decided to leave the Likud today,” Sharon said. “The Likud in its current constellation cannot lead Israel to its national goals. I set up the Likud in order to serve a national idea and give hope to the people of Israel. Unfortunately, this is no longer there (in the Likud).”

     

    “Had I stayed in the Likud, I would have likely won the primaries and led the Likud to an elections victory,” the PM noted. “It would have been a safer move personally, but it’s not the way to serve the State of Israel. Staying in the Likud means wasting time in political struggles instead of deeds on behalf of the country.”

     

    “Israeli citizens put their faith in me, they didn’t elect me to keep my chair warm,” he said.

    8:35PM: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has rejected Sharon’s invitation to join the new party, and has instead decided to stay with Likud and run for party leadership.

     

    10:25PM: The Knesset has voted to disband itself. Consequently, elections will be held March 28th.

     

    For a continuation of the latest election news, see here.

    About the author

    Picture of David Lange

    David Lange

    A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
    Picture of David Lange

    David Lange

    A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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