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Dirty Dancing with Labor

By Michael Freund
10/2/2004, 12:00 AM

With the dismissal yesterday of the ministers in his government from the Shinui party, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now finds himself running out of options.

His coalition government now formally consists of just one party – the Likud – which has 40 out of the 120 seats in parliament. If he is to avoid new elections, Sharon must move quickly to build a coalition – but his options are extremely limited, to say the least.

Basically, he must try to win back Labor, whose 21 members would give him a numerical majority in the Knesset, but a lot of headaches as well. The Likud Central Committee is already on record – having voted several months ago on the subject – as being against a unity government with the party headed by Shimon Peres. Sharon’s only chance of forming such a union lies in enticing two Haredi parties – United Torah Judaism (UTJ; has 5 seats in the current Knesset) and Shas (10 seats) – to join him. That, it is believed, would make it easier for Likudniks to “swallow” another round of dirty dancing with Labor.

But even such a scenario won’t prove so simple – both UTJ and Shas have already voted against Sharon’s withdrawal plan from Gaza. Hence, the true irony here is as follows: Sharon must convince the Likudniks, most of whom oppose the Gaza retreat, to allow him to bring in Labor so that he can move forward with the very withdrawal they are against.

And, simultaneously, Sharon must persuade Labor to embrace the Haredi parties, who have opposed withdrawal, in order so that he can carry it out.

From a political perspective – the task facing Sharon is immense, as well as intriguing. But that is beside the point.

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Those of us who voted Sharon into office did so precisely because we did not want Labor to be in power. If Sharon moves forward with a unity government, it will be in defiance of the mandate he received from the people. And that is hardly a good example of how democracy is truly supposed to work.