Daily Israel Report

Looking Beyond The Referendum

Will he or won't he resign? Prime Minister Sharon has still not stated unequivocally how he will respond if his unilateral withdrawal plan is rejected today.
First Publish: 5/2/2004, 8:28 AM / Last Update: 4/30/2004, 3:20 PM

Will he or won't he resign? Prime Minister Sharon has still not stated unequivocally how he will respond if his unilateral withdrawal plan is rejected on Sunday. An open threat to resign has been widely called his "last resort Judgment Day Weapon," and analysts feel that he may use it tomorrow or Sunday if he deems it necessary to swing the vote in his favor. A Likud official said last night that it is assumed that Sharon will not resign in the event that the plan is defeated, but that he will try to advance the elections if the loss is by a sizeable margin.

The current law states that if the Prime Minister resigns, his government becomes a transitional one, while the Knesset Members remain in office. In such a case, the President must appoint another MK within seven days to form a new government. Presumably, in this case, that MK would be Binyamin Netanyahu, who enjoys the most support within the ruling and largest party, the Likud.

It is also not clear what Prime Minister Sharon will do with the plan if it is rejected. Although he promised to abide by the results of the Likud Party referendum, his advisor Lior Horev said today that he might try to work in other ways to advance the unilateral withdrawal. Another option is to bring it to a government vote no matter what - an option that could lead to a split in the Likud.

On the other hand, it is also not clear what will happen to the government's right wing if the Likud membership approves the withdrawal. In a survey of National Religious Party members this week, it was found that 63% are in favor of an immediate resignation from the government if the plan is passed - in keeping with party leader Housing Minister Effie Eitam's view, and opposed to that of Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev. Only 32% say the party should remain. In a similar poll of the National Union party, the margin was closer: 48% in favor of leaving, 45% opposed. It is widely assumed that if the government falls apart, Sharon will turn to the Labor Party to fill the void and help form a non-religious left-of-center Likud-Shinui-Labor government. Labor, however, has not yet agreed to join, and is concerned that Sharon might be indicted on either or both of the criminal cases pending against him.