The Big Man has done it. He’s quit the Likud. It just won’t be the same without him. Now the Party can become the right-fringe, loony tunes outfit it always had the potential to be. But what can we expect from Sharon? Will he run to the center? Or will he run a campaign that mouths centrist positions but really tilts right after the next election? So far, they’re talking the good talk:
The prime minister’s decision to leave the party testifies to a significant about-face in his ideology, which is likely to include favoring the evacuation of most or all isolated settlements in the West Bank, Sharon’s aides said.
Sources close to Sharon said Sunday night that the new party would be a “true centrist party, from every perspective: political, economic and social.”
Sharon’s new party would likely attempt to form a coalition with Labor, Shinui, and even Meretz-Yahad, in addition to gaining parliamentary support from Arab factions in the next Knesset.
Shinui, definitely. Labor, probably not under Peretz’s leadership. Meretz, you’ve got to be joking. The operative word above is “attempt.” I can attempt to talk to the animals–doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen. But tactical voting support within the Knesset for issues dear to the heart of progressives might be possible, say, for West Bank settlement withdrawal. Though I have no idea what “evacuation of most or all isolated settlements” means. I’d sure rather not have the word “isolated” interpolated in that passage. It makes the statement a whole lot less substantive, though any withdrawal is a start.
Elections appear to be headed for early March. March 8th is the date mentioned in this Haaretz article. Here’s the list of who Sharon’s taking with him:
Sharon’s new party is expected to attract 12 to 14 Likud MKs. Among those planning to join the premier are Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Ministers Avraham Hirschon, Meir Sheetrit and Gideon Ezra, Israel Radio reported early Monday morning. MKs Roni Bar-On, Eli Aflalo, Ruhama Avraham, Inbal Gavrieli and Majali Wahabi were also reported to be planning to support Sharon.
A truly tantalizing question is whether Sharon will draw anyone from Labor into the fold, especially Shimon Peres:
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who engaged Sunday in long talks with Sharon regarding future cooperation, will not leave the Labor Party to join Sharon’s new party, Peres’ aides said Monday.
Two interesting points about that passage:
1. that Peres engaged in “long talks” with Sharon about “future cooperation” can mean many things…but one thing’s for sure–if Peres were truly content staying with Peretz in Labor those would not have been “long talks.”
2. the passage implies (though this is a bit of a jump) that Peres plans to remain in politics and not retire as some have urged him to do (including his family); it also could indicate (and I realize this contradicts what I wrote just above) a decent chance that Peres will remain within Labor to support Peretz which would (if Peres was a real supporter and not just a mouther of supportive words) boost Labor’s chances in the election.
For a downbeat assessment of the new party’s staying power read this Haaretz article.
Interesting developments within the Labor Party as well. Peretz delivered a stem-winding speech excoriating Sharon for the deepening divide between rich and poor (one of the widest gaps among developed nations). And Peretz expounded a new theme that may resonate with average Israelis not imbued with settler ideological fervor:
Peretz blamed Sharon for transferring millions in funds to the former Gaza Strip settlements of Gush Katif, which he alleged the prime minister knew were not a permanent enterprise, rather than funding education in development towns and building advanced factories inside Israel.
He called on voters from Sharon’s Likud from the lower classes to switch to Labor. “Come join the new social pact,” he said, “You are not abandoning Likud – Likud has abandoned you.”
I think some American campaign consultant wrote that last line for him because I remember reading it coming from a Republican’s mouth (maybe Ken Mehlman) during the last election. I think it will resonate even more in Israel because there is a sense that Likud took advantage of Labor’s indifference toward Mizrahi voters and drew them to the conservative party; but that now it’s Likud–especially due to Netanyahu’s draconian economic austerity policies–which has allowed the Mizrahi to drift away.