November 21, 2005

Adios, Ariel

Hatched by Dafydd

I don't know what to make of this; this is really breaking news. And it's a "crisis" in the proper sense of the word: a crossroads where we cannot see very far down any of the possible paths.

Ariel Sharon is leaving the Likud Party of Israel and forming a new party.

Ariel Sharon Leaving His Likud Party
by Mark Lavie
Associated Press
Nov 21, 2005

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to leave the political party he established three decades ago and form a new movement, one of his top advisers said Monday.

Asked if Sharon had decided to leave the Likud, top adviser Asaf Shariv said: "Yes. He will announce it sometime today."

Yesterday, the dovish Labor Party, now headed by leftist union agitator Amir Peretz, voted to pull out of the grand coalition with Likud, pretty much precipitating the collapse of the government. All of the Labor members of Sharon's government resigned, as well. Sharon has called upon Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, to dissolve the Knesset, which would bring about early elections; Katsav says he is "considering" doing so, but it's hard to see what other options he might have. If (when) he does, the elections will likely occur in March of 2006, which will annoy the heck out of Likud and some of the smaller parties, which are not prepared for elections that soon: they are currently scheduled for November 2006.

Presumably, Benjamin Netanyahu and other hardliners will remain in Likud, splitting the anti-Labor vote between two different parties. But some members of Labor, led by former leader and prime minister Shimon Peres, appear poised to bolt from Labor to follow Sharon into a new party.

The most likely outcome will be that there will be a large centrist party run by Ariel Sharon, a moderate-sized Labor Party, and Likud, likely the smallest of these three; this would put Sharon's new party in the catbird's seat, able to ally either with Likud against Labor or with Labor against Likud, as the whim strikes them; either alliance would likely yield a governing majority in the Knesset. From the New York Times:

Early polls show that a new party led by Mr. Sharon would be the largest in the Parliament, with about 28 seats of 120, but he would need other parties to form a coalition. Likud has 40 seats, but Mr. Sharon faces severe dissent within the party and its central committee, which regards him as having betrayed the principles of Likud by his willingness to hand territory considered part of the biblical land of Israel over to the Palestinians without negotiations.

But it's theoretically possible that if Labor and Likud allied against the new party, and perhaps sucked in some of the single-issue parties, they could put together a slim majority; everything depends upon the exact numbers in each. All in all, I'm quite unhappy about this. Volatility is exactly the opposite of what Israel needs now, what with the Palestinian Authority likely to come under the sway of Hamas after the January elections, with Iran itching to start firing nuclear missiles at Israel the moment they have some that work, and Syria about to explode.

I can only hope that sanity will prevail, and the Sharon party will ally with Likud on terms more favorable to each than the grand coalition of Likud and Labor that existed for the last few years until yesterday. Then cabinet seats can quickly be filled; Sharon and Netanyahu -- or Netanyahu's successor, if Bibi loses control of the hardline faction of Likud -- will no longer be rivals within the same party; and perhaps they can have a more meaningful relationship (yeesh, I sound like Dr. Ruth).

But it's just one more big, fat known unknown in the MIddle East morass.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 21, 2005, at the time of 1:06 AM

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