Ariel Sharon Quits Likud, Forms National Responsibility

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is dissolving the Knesset and leaving the Likud Party he helped found in 1973 and putting together a new party, National Responsibility (Ahrayut Leumit), with former rival Shimon Peres.

Sharon Seeks Dissolution of Parliament (AP)

In a bold political gamble, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday asked Israel’s president to dissolve parliament, pushing for a March election after deciding to leave his hardline Likud Party and to form a new centrist political movement.
Sharon’s decision to leave Likud, the party he helped establish in 1973, redraws Israel’s political map, formalizing his transformation from hardliner to moderate. It also increases the chances of progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Sharon felt Likud hardliners, who had tried to block this summer’s Gaza pullout, were imposing too many constraints on him and would prevent future peace moves. Dissolving parliament would move the election up from November to the beginning of March, because a new election would have to be held within 90 days. President Moshe Katsav said he would weigh the request and decide after consulting with leaders of other parties. Katsav said Sharon told him during a Monday morning visit at the president’s home that he could no longer run the government because he does not have a majority in parliament. “Of course, I think we need to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections as soon as possible,” Katsav said.

Sharon’s decision to leave Likud sent shock waves through Israeli politics, and set the stage for a dramatic election campaign. It would pit a smaller, hardline Likud, possibly under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against Sharon and the new Labor Party leader, former union boss Amir Peretz. Sharon and Netanyahu are bitter political rivals.

One poll Monday said an alliance of Sharon’s new party with the moderate Labor and leftist parties would command 74 seats in the 120-member parliament.

Sharon Is Seen Ready to Quit Party (WaPo, A12)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to leave the Likud Party he helped found more than three decades ago and lead a new political movement into the next elections, according to Israeli news reports and an aide familiar with the decision. Sharon, 77, is expected to announce his departure Monday after meeting with President Moshe Katsav, whom he will ask to dissolve parliament. Sharon made the decision late Sunday after meeting with advisers and party members throughout the day, the aide and news reports said.

[…]

Last week, several of Sharon’s political advisers said he would probably be elected prime minister for a third time at the head of Likud, an assertion recent opinion polls corroborate. But they said he feared party dissidents would block any future efforts he might make to end the conflict with the Palestinians.

Earlier on Sunday, the Labor Party, Sharon’s main coalition partner for nearly a year, voted to withdraw its eight ministers from the cabinet, as expected. Amir Peretz, the longtime labor union leader who won the Nov. 10 party leadership vote, had promised to leave the government and trigger early elections. Peretz, 54, told the Labor central committee that Sharon had “humiliated” his party’s members by embracing an economic policy of lower public spending and privatization. “Come join the new social pact,” Peretz said in a full-throated speech, reaching out to disaffected Likud voters. “You are not abandoning Likud. Likud has abandoned you.”

On Sunday, Sharon told Shimon Peres, 82, who lost the recent Labor leadership vote, that he would soon need his services. Political analysts have suggested that the two men, who have been active in Israeli public life for six decades, could win over many moderate voters if they formed a party focused on ending the conflict with the Palestinians.

National Responsibility has 1st meeting (Jerusalem Post)

The name of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new centrist party will be Ahrayut Leumit, or “National Responsibility,” Sharon announced during the group’s first meeting on Monday afternoon. Eight ministers and MKs attended the first party meeting, nearly half the expected number. Sharon was slated to hold a press conference at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, in which he was expected to officially announce the formation of his new political party.

During an afternoon jam-packed with meetings ahead of the press conference, Sharon was focusing efforts on recruiting his allies to join the new party. Sharon had meetings scheduled with numerous MKs, including a pivotal appointment with Deputy Internal Security Minister Ya’acov Edri. Of all the new MKs that joined the cabinet, Edri is the most respected, and he stands as a symbol of clean politics and integrity, and Sharon was making diligent efforts to recruit him. Sharon met Sunday with Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson, who said they would follow him to a new party. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, and Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit were also expected to join the prime minister in his new party, as were Likud MKs Eli Aflalo, Inbal Gavrieli, Ronnie Bar-On, Ze’ev Boim, Ruhama Avraham, and Majallie Whbee.

Soon after announcing his decision, Sharon called close associate Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and invited him to join the new ticket. Sharon told Mofaz to “show national responsibility,” join him in establishing the centrist party, and remain in the role of defense minister if Sharon heads the next government. Mofaz has reportedly not yet given Sharon an answer.

Who would have thought, when he helped launch the second Intifada with his stunt at the Temple Mount five years ago, that Sharon would wind up in Israel’s political center? That he and Peres would form a political party would certainly have been inconceivable.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dean Esmay says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how his calculation pans out. Doubtless Netanyahu will be the favorite to take over Likud now…

  2. DC Loser says:

    This is right in line with Menachem Begin’s hug with Sadat. It’s always the hardliners who have the credibility when they decide to reach to the opposite side ala Nixon to China.