Ariel Sharon Loyalists Unite

Ariel Sharon has organized a party based on loyalty to Ariel Sharon.

David Bedein,

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credit David Michael Cohen
Ariel Sharon, who has served as Israel's prime minister for almost five years, has suddenly found himself without the very Likud party that he formed in 1973.

Likud had a clear platform, which opposed ceding any land to any Arab neighbor without a solid peace treaty. Such was the case with Anwar Sadat, when Sharon served in the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin as agriculture minister and then as defense minister.

Unlike the Likud, Labor and Meretz, all of whom favor various forms of the territories-for-peace formula, Sharon abandoned the principle of reciprocity in favor of a position of unilateralism when he instigated the demolition of 25 Jewish communities, and the hand-over of their assets to terrorists. Ironically, that unilateralist position is remarkably similar to the platform of the Shlomtzion party, led by Sharon in 1977, which indeed advocated unilateral withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Until recently, unilateralism had only been the platform of Israel's Communist party and Israel's three Arab political parties. Therefore, Sharon found himself without a political party and without a political base.

So, Ariel Sharon organized a party based on loyalty to Ariel Sharon.

The people Sharon has chosen to join his party are members of the Likud faction of the Knesset who remained supportive of his policies. Likud ministers such as Ehud Olmert, Sha'ul Mofaz, Meir Shetreet and Tzippi Livni have tied their political careers to the coattails of Ariel Sharon. Apparently, so has Shimon Peres, the stalwart elder statesman of the Labor Party.

The power of incumbency gave Sharon about 30 seats, or 25% of the Knesset, in the initial polls that were taken in the days before he decided to form his own party. However, it is hard to envision the tenacity and strength of a such a political party.

Ariel Sharon does have a following in Israel. It is based on widespread admiration for a man who showed courage in the battlefield, and for a man who is always willing to take risks to carry out the policies that he believes in.

Now, the Likud will draft a candidate for party leadership who will reflect a more clear, and less compromising, position than that of Ariel Sharon. Such a draft may marginalize Sharon and his supporters.

Ariel Sharon's Party for National Responsibility is riddled with contradictions, led by a tough-talking leader whose record of capitulation in negotiation has transformed his image in Israeli public opinion to a somewhat less-than-heroic figure.

Israel's political history in filled with instances when a "centrist" party is formed overnight and lasts only one term in office. Such was the case with the Democratic Movement for Change under Yigal Yadin's leadership in 1977, and such was the case with the Center Party in 1999.

Will Ariel Sharon to fade into Israeli political history as the greatest political anomaly that Israel has ever produced in its short history? We will know very shortly.