‘PM will set out dovish vision if he bolts Likud’

By David Horovitz September 2, 2005

Sharon, ‘Post’ told, will quit the party if its central committee defies him this month and votes for the leadership contest sought by Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau

If Ariel Sharon opts to leave the Likud and runs for election at the head of a new faction, he will set out a vision for Israel’s borders in the West Bank similar to the route of the security barrier with minor additions, The Jerusalem Post has been told. And the prime minister, the Post has also learned, will indeed quit the party if its central committee defies him this month and votes for the leadership contest sought this winter by Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau.

Despite discouraging public opinion polls, Sharon has not given up hope of persuading the Likud’s 3,000-plus central committee members later this month to vote down a proposal for the leadership primary. He believes that many in the central committee will ultimately prove disinclined to approve a process essentially designed to unseat a serving prime minister, and that many will also assess that the party will lose a sizable proportion of its Knesset seats if led into a general election by Netanyahu or Landau rather than him.

If this proves to be the case, and Sharon retains the party leadership for the time being, he’ll maintain his declared, albeit vague, readiness for a resumed political process, confident that the Gaza pullout will liberate Israel from early pressure for further concessions and aware in any case that nothing substantive can take place until after Palestinian parliamentary elections at the end of January.

If, however, the central committee does vote in favor of a leadership contest, the Post has been told, Sharon will duck that battle, quit the party, set up his own faction and speed toward general elections. He will be more ready to publicly set out a vision for Israel’s borders, and that vision will largely coincide with the route of the security fence – encompassing the major settlement blocs and perhaps 10 percent of the West Bank (the security fence, as currently routed, encompasses some 7%). If realized, this would necessitate the dismantling of dozens of settlements and the relocation of their tens of thousands of residents.

Although Sharon is well aware of the ignominious fate of numerous previous efforts through the years by defecting politicians to establish powerful new factions, it is noted in his circle that no previous such efforts were led by serving prime ministers. Given his personal popularity nationwide, the international benefits of the Gaza pullout (such as Thursday’s major step toward diplomatic ties with Pakistan), and a robust economy, some of those around Sharon assert that a new party under his leadership could garner 25 seats. It is claimed, however, that no polling on this has yet been carried out, nor consideration even given to the name of such a party.

Only Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson and Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit are considered ministerial-level safe-bets to follow Sharon out of the Likud should he bolt.

A formal ‘big bang’ alliance with Labor and Shinui is thought to be entirely unlikely, not least because it is assessed that these three parties running separately would garner many more Knesset seats than they would together. A pre-election partnership with Shinui’s Lapid, for instance, would alienate many traditional Israeli Jews who might otherwise vote for Sharon.

Instead, the hopeful assumption in the Sharon camp is that the three parties would join together after elections to form the heart of a ruling coalition.

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