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Arik shocks Israeli political scene

Israeli prime minister, Ariel ‘Arik’ Sharon’s decision to resign as head of the ruling right wing Likud party and form his own party sent tremors across the country’s political landscape last week.

Israeli prime minister, Ariel ‘Arik’ Sharon’s decision to resign as head of the ruling right wing Likud party and form his own party sent tremors across the country’s political landscape last week.

The move, which brought an end to Sharon's reign at the helm of Likud since his victory in the 2001 elections, was seen to be a result of a number of factors — foremost, the Israeli premier not having the necessary political capital within the party to manoeuvre the country along the Bush ‘road map for peace’ that would culminate in an independent Palestinian state.

“After great hesitation I decided to leave the Likud," Sharon said. “The Likud in its current format cannot lead Israel to its national aims ... Remaining in the Likud means a waste of time in political fighting,” added the Israeli premier, who helped found the Likud party 30 years ago.

Dr. Gil Feiler, the prominent Israeli-based political analyst and consultant, told Arabian Business: “Sharon did the best thing for his own political motives. He likes to do everything alone. He listens to people but decides alone.”

The ousting of Labour leader Shimon Peres less than two weeks ago by Amir Peretz was also a factor in the decision of Sharon, who appears likely to incorporate his former deputy into his new National Responsibility party.

It will take part in the state's upcoming elections in March.

“In the new party, Sharon would like to dictate everything," said Feiler. “He [achieved] a miracle, because ten years ago he was politically dead after the Lebanon war,” said Feiler. The 77 year-old former army general, who spearheaded Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has been vilified in the Arab world for his involvement in the subsequent massacre of 2000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon.

After coming to power in 1996, Sharon went from being a radical right wing leader, known as the father of the settler movement in Israel, to a less hawkish and centrist politician who orchestrated the pullout of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in August. According an opinion poll carried out by Israeli daily Ha'aretz, if elections were to be held in Israel now, Sharon would win a third term in office.

Sharon’s new party would be the largest in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, with 30 seats, according to the survey. It predicted that the Labour party under Amir Peretz would win 26 seats and right wing Likud, which does not yet have a new leader, would manage a mere 15.

Hawkish Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon’s government earlier in the year because of a disagreement over the Gaza disengagement plan, is now likely to come to the fore of Likud and compete in the upcoming elections against Sharon.

Sharon's bitter rival served as finance minister after Mr Sharon’s government was elected during 2003 and as prime minister after winning the elections which followed the assassination of former Labour premier Yitzhak Rabin.

Amir Peretz, who surprisingly defeated incumbent Labour leader Shimon Peres, wants to focus on a domestic platform and leverage his trade union background to advance a socialist agenda.

It is widely expected that the ousted Shimon Peres will now join the newly formed party of Ariel Sharon, marking his departure from mainstream politics.Though Sharon will remain as acting prime minister, Israeli president Moshe Katsav now has to find a new premier — and one that could put together a majority in parliament and form a government within 21 days.

Reacting to the unfolding events in Israel, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat commented: “I believe this is an eruption of an Israeli political volcano, and I hope that when the dust settles, we will have a partner in Israel.”

Feiler played down the move's impact, however: “I don’t think the earthquake in Israel, would have any major influence …whether its Sharon, Netanyahu or Peretz [as prime ministers],” he said.

The issue of more than four million Palestinian refugees and their right to return remains the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Feiler. “No one talks about this,” he said, adding: “This is the heart of the problem. So long as its not solved there won’t be peace.”

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