Knesset Abuzz Following Sharon Earthquake

As President Katzav considers PM Sharon's request to dissolve the Knesset and declare new elections, the Knesset is trying to pass its own law on the matter. Elections will likely be held in March.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 11:38

Sharon caused a political earthquake late Sunday night when he decided to quit his position as Likud Party Chairman, and run for Prime Minister as head of a new party.

He arrived at Katzav's Jerusalem residence this morning, and informed the President that the Knesset "currently does not enable the government to function normally." Sharon therefore asked that the Knesset be dissolved and new elections be held in 90 days, in accordance with the law.

The 90 days, however, do not begin immediately, but rather three weeks from now. During this interim period, Katzav can seek another MK, one whom he thinks has a chance of succeeding in forming another government. The new government would serve until the officially scheduled election date, one year from now. The first name mentioned in this connection is Binyamin Netanyahu, but the chances that he will receive the support of 61 MKs are considered slim.

If such an MK is not found within the three weeks, elections will be held 90 days from then, or March 6.

A third possibility is that the Knesset will circumvent the President, and will itself pass a law to dissolve the Knesset - possibly even today. The ramifications of such, in addition to the clash of authorities between the Knesset and the President, are that the Knesset would be able to determine the date of the elections. In such a case, the elections would probably be held on March 28 - as the Likud and many other MKs would hope to melt down Sharon's momentum.

In the meanwhile, Sharon convened his new party faction, or most of it, for the first time today at noon. The name of the new party: The National Responsibility. Between 10 and 14 Likud MKs are expected to join Sharon, but many of them are still wavering. Among those who will surely join Sharon are back-benchers Ruchama Avraham, Majali Wahbe, and Eli Aflalo, as well as Ministers Ehud Olmert, Gideon Ezra, Tzippy Livny and others. MK Inbal Gavrieli was assumed to be a sure catch for Sharon, but she announced today that she was remaining in the Likud.

Though Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz - currently not a Knesset Member - said as recently as yesterday that he would not quit the Likud, sources close to Sharon say that Mofaz is close to changing his mind.

Among other names rumored to be considering joining Sharon's party are former GSS head Avi Dichter, Negev University President Avishai Braverman, and Shinui party founder Prof. Uriel Reichman.

Within the Labor Party, three names were mentioned: Chaim Ramon, who has long awaited the formation of a new party such as Sharon's, is certain to join him, while Dalia Itzik quashed rumors that she might also join by appearing at today's Labor Party faction meeting. Shimon Peres is another name that has been mentioned; he did not show up at the Labor meeting today. Though he has been a member of Labor for decades, he considered running for Prime Minister in 2001 on the Meretz party ticket.

Within the Likud, Minister Tzachi HaNegbi, chairman of the party's Central Committee, has become the Temporary Party Chairman. This is in accordance with party procedure in the event that the chairman quits. HaNegbi will convene the party institutions within the coming days to decide a date for party primaries. Vying for the top slot are Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Moshe Feiglin, Silvan Shalom, Yisrael Katz, Limor Livnat, and Mofaz - if he remains in the party. The last three or four are assumed to be merely positioning themselves for a future run for party leader.