Seems like Israelis are peering at tea leaves almost as intently regarding Ariel Sharon’s future as Washington, DC is regarding the identity of Bob Woodward’s Plamegate source. Just as everyone here has a theory about who Deep Throat II is, everyone in Israel knows what Sharon will do. He’ll bolt Likud and form a new centrist party. He’ll stay in Likud and face down Netanyahu and the latter’s “rebels.”
I realize that wading into this muddy thicket is perilous for one’s reputation as a prognosticator–but Haaretz pretty clearly indicates that Sharon (based on anonymous sources it labels Sharon “associates”) will leave Likud:
Most senior Likud figures, including ministers, reportedly believe that Sharon is planning to leave and split the party.
This of course is terribly sloppy journalism (don’t Israeli papers have any standards when it comes to sourcing?), but if we assume there is truth to it, it makes the ‘new party’ theory even more convincing. If you add to that the fact that Mofaz just announced his intent to contest for Likud leadership, you’d have a pretty strong case for Sharon exiting.
As my friend Robert Rosenberg writes in Ariga.com, Sharon, Begin and Ezer Weizman triple-handedly revived Likud as a political force in the late 1970s. Without Sharon, the other two might not have won the 1977 election. So the general is deeply intertwined with his Party and it just won’t be the same without him.
Just look who’s getting in line to run if Sharon leaves: Uzi Landau, Limor Livnat, Shaul Mofaz and Silvan Shalom. And certainly Netanyahu will want a piece of that action too. Not exactly household names are they? They certainly don’t command the confidence that Sharon does with the Israeli electorate. Even polls confirm that a Likud led by Bibi would command at best 22 seats while Labor under Peretz and Sharon’s party would each win 28 seats. Such a result for Likud would be something akin to the disastrous showing for Labor in the last election under Mitzna when it won only 19 seats.
Of course, the big question here is whether Sharon can draw Peres and the more centrist Labor MKs into his fold. If he can, then he has a running start to become the next prime minister. Haaretz reports that Labor Party leaders Haim Ramon and Avi Dichter have agreed to bolt their party for Sharon’s. That would certainly be a blow to Peretz. If Peres decides either to drop out of politics or to stay with Peretz in the bosom of Labor (the paper reports that Peres will not be invited to join the new effort though I find that hard to believe), that will make it harder for Sharon to cobble together the necessary votes to win. Though no one is dismissing him. You do that at your peril whether on the battlefield or in an election campaign. Sharon is a formidable opponent no matter what the circumstances.