Efforts Continue to Form Non-Sharon Government

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz says he will not cooperate with the attempts to have him head a 61-MK coalition with the Likud and thus postpone the elections to November.<BR><br/>

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 16:05

Just over two weeks from now, President Moshe Katzav's presidential decree setting Election Day for March 28 will come into effect. Until then, if a majority of the Knesset agrees on a Prime Minister, it can vote a new government into power. In such a case, the original election date of Nov 2006 will once again apply.

Such a 61-MK coalition will certainly not involve Ariel Sharon's Kadima party, which, with its current large lead in the polls, is not interested in pushing off the elections. It would involve an alliance of either Shas and Shinui, or Likud and Labor. Neither will be easy to accomplish.

Shinui has long vowed not to sit in the same government as Shas, because of its hareidi-religious nature. However, the polls show that Shinui is facing a sharp defeat in the upcoming elections, and might be willing to adjust its opposition to Shinui in order to remain in the Knesset for another few months.

More likely is a Likud bid to support Amir Peretz of Labor. This would be a hard pill for Likud front-runner Binyamin Netanyahu to swallow, as he and Peretz have long been political rivals. Most recently, late last year, Peretz led a nationwide strike against then-Finance Minister Netanyahu's policies.

Netanyahu has not made his position clear, but Peretz said unequivocally today that he would not participate in "tricks" of this nature. "The Prime Minister must be chosen in the voting booth, and not by tricks," Peretz said.

However, others in Labor are not so sure. It is assumed that if Labor's poll showings continue to drop, the party will consider the option more seriously.

Likud MK Ayoub Kara said he would be willing to do "almost anything" in order to "send the Kadima Party to flounder and drown in the ocean" - including supporting Amir Peretz as Prime Minister until November. He said, however, that he does not represent Netanyahu in this matter.

Following the surprise defections of Ministers Sha'ul Mofaz and Tzachi HaNegbi to Kadima, the Likud took comfort today in the fact that Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal is running for a Knesset seat on its list. "I was sought out by all the parties except for the Arab ones," Moyal said, "but now, at this critical hour, is the time to strengthen the Likud." Moyal recently turned down an offer to serve as Israel's ambassador in Paris.

Binyamin Netanyahu continues to lead in the polls in the race for Likud Party leader and Prime Ministerial candidate. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is still running second, with Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz and Moshe Feiglin lagging behind. Leading Likud figures such as Uzi Landau, Ruby Rivlin, Natan Sharansky, David Levy, Yuval Shteinitz and Ayoub Kara support Netanyahu. No MKs have come out in favor of Shalom, Katz or Feiglin.

The Likud elections will be held a week from now, on Dec. 19, among Likud members nationwide. If no candidate receives at least 40% of the vote, a runoff between the top two will be held a week later.

In the meanwhile, harsh criticism continues to be heaped upon Minister Mofaz for his surprise defection to Sharon's Kadima party. In the midst of his race for Likud Party leadership, and just two days after repeating that he had no plans of leaving the party, and around the same time that a statement was published in his name calling upon Netanyahu to work with him, and while a letter was in the mail calling upon Likud members to support him, Mofaz decided to switch to Kadima. In a press conference he called yesterday, Mofaz said, "It's not me who changed, it's rather the situation." He said that he saw the Likud becoming an "extreme right-wing party," and "this is not my way." Most commentators said that in actuality, he preferred a safe seat and job under Sharon's sponsorship, rather than face defeat and an uncertain future in the Likud.

Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz said that Mofaz's switch was "disgraceful and contempt... Everyone wants to advance in politics, even me, but there must be some norms. Mofaz, by quitting, showed that there are no such norms."

Shteinitz said that Ariel Sharon, in trying to attract leading Likud members to his party, "is trying to destroy the right-wing governmental alternative presented by the Likud. This is very dangerous."

Professors for a Strong Israel, in a statement, said it was not surprised at the move by Mofaz to "Sharon's refugee camp. We are concerned, rather, by the development of Sharonocracy, this rule by an autocrat surrounded by lieutenants and others who feed at his trough. The trampling of democracy through the destruction of political parties is but one of the facets of Sharonocracy. Sharonocratic rule has dragged Israel down to a low point unprecedented in its history. Sharon was elected to fight terror, but instead used the votes of his supporters to implement the policies of his opponents... [We see] the present political struggle as a struggle for the continued existence of Israel as a state that is Zionist, Jewish, and democratic. Sharonocracy and democracy cannot coexist."