Sharon Attempts to Destroy Another of His Works: The Likud

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced he is quitting the party he is credited with founding 32 years ago, and will start a new one. Approximately a dozen Likud MKs will apparently join him.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 00:39

Prime Minister Sharon ended the suspense that gripped the country for a number of weeks, and made known his decision around midnight Sunday night: He will not run for the Likud Party leadership, but will rather quit and form his own new party. The reason, apparently, is as Binyamin Netanyahu - his main challenger for the party leadership - said on Friday: "Sharon knows that the Likud as a party will never accept his dictates for additional withdrawals, in the framework of the Roadmap or in a unilateral and arbitrary manner, as happened in Gush Katif. Every territorial compromise in the future will be contingent upon a referendum. Therefore, he has been left with no choice but to [try to] carry out his policies via a different party."

Commentators noted that Sharon would never have taken such a risky and controversial step if he was not planning to continue his policy of withdrawals from Judea, Samaria and even Jerusalem.

Sharon submitted his resignation to President Moshe Katzav on Monday morning, and elections must be held within 111 days afterwards - 21 days to see if an alternative government can be formed (which most observers feel it cannot), and then 90 days of campaigning. The election will apparently be held on Wednesday, March 8, 2006, the 8th of Adar 5756 - unless the Knesset dissolves itself, causing another three-week delay in the election.

The Knesset Sharon's decision to quit puts the political framework into a dizzying spin. The Likud will have to regroup and see who is left after its leader leaves and takes with him approximately a third of its Knesset Members. In addition, six people have already announced or intimated their intentions to run for party leader once Sharon leaves. They are Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Moshe Feiglin, Sha'ul Mofaz, Yisrael Katz, Silvan Shalom, and possibly Limor Livnat (who later said she would not run).

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said, shortly after Sharon's decision was made public, that the right-wing - including the pared-down Likud, the National Religious Party, the National Union, and Yisrael Beiteinu - will have to merge into one bloc. "What logic didn't do, fear will do," he said, explaining that the right-wing bloc should have been formed long ago.

"The political map has been redrawn," Eldad said. "It's right, center, left, hareidim and Arabs - that's it." It was not immediately clear why Eldad considers Sharon's new party to be a centrist one.

Ariel Sharon founded the Likud in 1973, when he said to have twisted Herut Party leader Menachem Begin's arm to accept a union with two other right-wing nationalist groups. Beginning in 1977, the Likud won six of the next nine national elections - in 1977, 1981, 1988, 1996, 2001, and 2003. The Likud lost only in 1992 and 1999, and reached the equivalent of a tie with Labor in 1984.

Sharon is now searing apart the party, with several of the current party ministers planning to bolt the party and join him. These include Ehud Olmert, Tzippy Livny, Avraham Hirschson, Gideon Ezra, and possibly Meir Sheetrit, as well as MKs Ruhama Avraham (Netanyahu's former top assistant), Eli Aflalo, Majli Wahabe, Roni Bar-On, Ze'ev Boim, and several more.

It was noted that just as Sharon had confounded former supporters by destroying the settlement enterprise in Gush Katif that he himself had so much to do with, he was now doing the same thing with his political home, the Likud. Likud MK Ehud Yatom said, "The man who built the Likud is now acting to dismantle it, just like he, the father of the settlements, is planning to continue to uproot them in Judea and Samaria."

MK Omri Sharon, the Prime Minister's son who pleaded guilty last week to violating campaign funding laws on behalf of his father's primaries victory in a previous election, has not resigned from the Knesset as a result - and MK Aryeh Eldad thinks he knows why: "This way, he can be possibly the 14th MK to join his father's new party - and if in fact the new party gets that many MKs, that is more than a third of the Likud. According to election laws, if one-third of a party breaks away, it receives one-third of the parent party's campaign funding and broadcast time - and in the case of the Likud, of course, this adds up to a lot. That's apparently why Omri Sharon didn't resign - to keep the millions for his father's new party."

Other reactions:
Likud MK Ayoub Kara: "We have thankfully been ridden of Sharon."

Shinui leader Tommy Lapid: "Sharon's decision was made out of personal considerations. He won't help the middle class, won't fight against religious coercion, and won't fight corruption."

Meretz leader Yossi Beilin: "The split in the Likud is a welcome blessing for those who support dividing the land. It provides a true opportunity for a coalition headed by the peace camp and with former Likud members, who now understand that for the last 38 years they fooled the nation and themselves, and that the dream of a Greater Land of Israel was a dangerous and false dream."