Israelis to hit polls early: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Labor party leader Amir Peretz met in Tel Aviv Thursday morning and agreed to bring general elections forward - possibly as early as February.
Later, Sharon met with opposition leader Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and told him he will decide on his next moves within days, alluding to the uncertainty over the PM’s future within the Likud
During the meeting, Sharon told Lapid any date after March 1st would be good for holding the elections. The PM also said he will hold a meeting with Likud members soon and explain his diplomatic plan, based on the Road Map.
Sharon noted he would not accept Likud elements sabotaging his diplomatic plans, and asked Lapid to back the State budget.
'People don't want elections'
During his meeting with Peretz, Sharon congratulated the new Labor leader on his primaries win but told him he was making a mistake by insisting on pulling out of the government, thereby forcing early elections.
“The people don’t want elections,” Sharon said. “It’s irresponsible to bring down the government and push elections forward.”
Peretz, however, replied that “elections were scheduled to be held in (November) 2006 in any case, and therefore it’s not that irresponsible to hold them earlier.” The two figures agreed that elections would be likely held at some point between late February to late March.
During the meeting, Peretz asked Sharon to lead the move for early elections and proposed they be held at a date that falls between the two figures’ birthdays (Sharon was born on February 26, Peretz on March 9.)
Following the meeting, Peretz said his talk with the prime minister was to-the-point and added he told Sharon any move to postpone the election would be irresponsible.
“I appeared before my voters and declared elections should be held, and I intend to maintain my credibility,” the Labor leader said.
Meanwhile, Peretz said he hoped to agree on an elections date with Sharon by Monday in order to stabilize the political and economic system.
“This will calm the markets in Israel,” Peretz said. “I hope all the obstacles will be removed and we’ll reach wall-to-wall understanding.”
'Elections as soon as possible'
General elections should be held as soon as possible, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Shimon Shiffer from Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in a special interview before the meeting with Peretz.
In the interview, Sharon told Shiffer that “in the complex reality the country faces, I have no intention to lead a minority government for long months.”
“I didn’t think elections should be brought forward, but the moment I realized the existing political arrangement is falling apart, I reached the conclusion the best thing for the country is to hold elections as soon as possible,” Sharon said. “Not in May, not in March. If possible, we’ll turn to the people as early as February.”
Sharon said immediate elections were necessary in order to prevent diplomatic stalemate.
“We must make sure 2006 does not become a lost year in terms of the diplomatic (peace) process and in terms of the effort to reach an agreement with the Palestinians,” he said.
Will Sharon bolt Likud?
Meanwhile, hours after the Likud meeting convened in a pleasant atmosphere of reconciliation, sources close to Sharon presented a much less placated attitude.
"The party's meeting was obviously a charade," a Sharon associate told Ynet Wednesday. "The 'rebels' need Sharon at the moment to get them into the Knesset, but they will not support him when the moment of truth comes," he added.
not be there. You have seen how they talk and how they look," he said.
The prime minister's associates also claim that Sharon has not yet decided on his future political path.
"Sharon has not yet decided whether to quit the Likud or run for party leadership. This contemplation is difficult, but the time to decide draws near. The prime minister will have to choose between one of two options: the first s to stay in the Likud, the second to leave and form a new party," a source close to the PM explained.
"The way things appear today, the Likud constitutes a complex and difficult choice. It is quite possible that a new party is in the making," he added.