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SHARON STARTLES LIKUD

Channel One TV: 'Sharon Has Decided To Bolt Likud & Lead New Party In Early Election Next April-May'

Likud Rebels: 'Sharon Trying To Scare Us Into Submission'

Labor Expected To Call On Shimon Peres To Carry On As Party Leader

PM Ariel Sharon (Photo:Amit Shabi)

Is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about to quit his ruling Likud party, call an early election and then join the race as head of a new Centrist Party? This has been bandied about for some time after the Likud opposed his recent Gaza withdrawal and now Channel One TV has reported that Sharon has made up his mind to do so. Officially, Sharon's spokesman has denied the TV report. Meanwhile the Labor party, Sharon's left wing coalition partner, is expected to vote for Shimon Peres to carry on as its leader.

'Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will soon bolt the Likud party, call an early election for April or May and then lead a new Centrist Party into the election'. That's the dramatic report by Channel One TV that has shaken up domestic politics in Israel. The rebellious Likud opposed Sharon's recent Gaza withdrawal, and the Prime Minister was able to implement it only with the backing of left wing Labor and opposition parties such as Shinui and Meretz. But now Sharon's feels the Likud 'rebels' vote against his appointments is the last straw. Sharon's new centrist party already has a name in Hebrew 'Ayn Li Aretz Acheret' - AAA and translated means, 'I Have No Other Country'. Sharon spokesman Assi Shariv has issued a denial saying: 'There is no such plan and no such party'. So, what's behind the 'Sharon source' leak to Ayala Hasson, Channel One's well-connected political reporter?

Off the record, Likud cabinet ministers say they are totally in the dark about a Sharon decision to quit the party. They say the leak could be a 'Sharon scare tactic' to warn the rebels after they blocked his appointment of the two pro-Sharon ministers to the cabinet. Another version is that one of Sharon's aids might have jumped the gun if the Prime Minister has not yet decided to quit the Likud and start planning the structure of his new erstwhile party. If Sharon does make the move, it would be a massive earthquake inside Israel's ruling party. Many key members would likely jump ship with him and Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shabak Security Service, would reportedly be on board.

Former Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who resigned in protest against the Gaza withdrawal, would be a shoe-in to succeed Sharon as Likud leader. However, public opinion polls show Sharon, at the head of a new centrist party, would probably win the next election and form the new government. For their part, the Likud rebels say they will not back down. Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal charges that Sharon violated the Likud's Land of Israel ideology and will carry out more withdrawals in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Opposition leader Tommy Lapid of Shinui says Sharon believes he is at the peak of his popularity and apparently will brook no opposition from inside the Likud.

Min. Shimon Peres (Photo:Amit Shabi)

Labor: Over 100,000 Labor party members are eligible to vote in primaries today to select a party leader. The incumbent Shimon Peres is expected to garner the forty percent required to defeat two other candidates: Histadrut union leader Emir Peretz and Cabinet Minister Binyamin Eliezer. The next party leader will lead Labor into the election, scheduled for no later than next November. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Ariel Sharon is expected to be unbeatable no matter which party he leads. Peres himself says he will keep Labor in the government if he wins: Peretz, running on a social welfare platform, has vowed to quit the coalition immediately

The Labor primaries have aroused little interest in the country. Peres himself is viewed as a stop-gap leader… two other Labor candidates Ehud Barak and Matan Vilnayie dropped out to support Peres. By guaranteeing the eighty-two year old Peres an internal Labor victory, they bar any younger candidate from getting a head-start now. This will leave the

David Essing

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