Photo: Reuters
What's his next move? Sharon
Photo: Reuters
Photo: Yaron Brenner
Deciding factor. Omri Sharon
Photo: Yaron Brenner
Photo: AP
'Problematic personality.' Netanyahu
Photo: AP

Sharon’s moment of truth

Is the prime minister headed for historic Likud split? Sharon spends weekend at home for final deliberations before making decision; Yedioth Ahronoth poll shows new Sharon party would win 28 Knesset seats, Likud would drop to 18

Is the Likud on the verge of a historic split? The entire nation is waiting for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision on whether to stay in the Likud or leave the ruling party in favor of a new party likely to change Israel’s political landscape.


Sharon’s decision, which is expected to be taken over the weekend, will likely be announced to the public next week.


The prime minister chose to spend the weekend at his residential home, the Sycamore Ranch in the southern Negev desert, far away from his political associates and from the cameras.


Most of Sharon’s close advisors already recommended that he leave the Likud brand name behind and set out on a new road. Now, the prime minister is choosing to spend time with his sons, grandchildren, and other close relatives in order to weigh the options before him.


Poll: 28 seats for Sharon party


A new party headed by Sharon would win an impressive 28 Knesset seats were elections held today, according to a survey commissioned by Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.


According to the poll, should Sharon decide to leave the ruling party, the Likud would collapse and win only 18 Knesset seats, down from its current 40. The Labor party also showed strong gains in the survey and would win 28 Knesset seats, up from its current 21.


With a Sharon announcement on his decision whether to stay in Likud or establish a new party expected soon, his aides told Ynet Thursday that "The temptation to leave is big, the polls are good, but this is a very, very scary move."


Sharon's aides convened in his Tel Aviv office for a meeting of what is called "The ranch forum," but did not hear from Sharon an unequivocal decision regarding his political future.


Some of the advisers who participated in the meeting estimated that Sharon would eventually leave and establish a new party, but even they could not guarantee that he would indeed do so.


The prime minister is expected make his final decision over the weekend, apparently among a limited forum of his close family members.


The standpoint of Sharon's son, Omri, is expected to serve as the deciding factor. In the past few months, Omri was one of the few aides who objected a move of leaving the Likud, and in the past few days he has strongly pondered what his father should do.


Sharon's aides said that the biggest problem of staying in Likud is the future constellation of the faction, which would prevent Sharon the freedom to operate in the political arena.


On the other hand, the prime minister's aides fear that if Sharon leaves, despite his great and exceptional popularity among the general public, history will repeat itself. Sharon and his aides are concerned that a new party may follow in the footsteps of new parties that received a small number of Knesset seats in the elections despite the people who headed them.


A signal of possible support from the outside was launched by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who said in an assembly of Labor party members in Tel Aviv that he would do anything in order to prevent the establishment of a rightist-religious coalition after the coming elections.


"I don’t want anything for myself, but I will work in order to assist the members who supported me," he added.


In light of Peres' unpleasant loss to Amir Peretz in the Labor primaries, there were those who interpreted Peres' words as a sign that he may still surprise his colleagues in the party.


'Surprising figures expected to join Sharon'


An aide of the prime minister told Ynet he estimates that if Sharon will eventually decide to leave, 10 to 15 Likud MKs will join him. The aide said that in such a case, two of those who will leave "may surprise the political establishment," but refused to name them so as not to harm them.


In addition, Sharon's aides said that two senior figures in Likud, who objected to the disengagement plan and are not among Sharon's supporters, had recently told him that if he decides to stay in the party they would publicly support him in the race for the Likud leadership against Netanyahu and Landau.


In the meantime, one of Sharon's aides estimated that MK Benjamin Netanyahu will not remove his candidacy for Likud chairman.


"The proposal to reserve the second spot in Likud for Netanyahu is a smart and suitable suggestion, but it has only one shortcoming: It does not take into account Bibi's problematic personality," the aide claimed.


"Netanyahu will not do it and there is no chance of it happening, although if he would withdraw his candidacy and declare that due to national considerations it is important to unite Likud – he could very quickly rehabilitate his unstable status among the public. The problem is that the man is not capable of doing that," the aide added.


Sharon's aides said that they were not impressed with the positive polls published recently, according to which Sharon is leading by a large margin over Netanyahu in the race for Likud leadership.


One of Sharon's advisers said that, "These polls do not take into account the high percentage of undecided voters, and from their analysis one can see that the gap is smaller than it seems," they said.


פרסום ראשון: 11.17.05, 23:10
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