(Video) Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with President Moshe Katsav at the president's official Jerusalem residence Monday to inform him that he intends to dissolve the Knesset. The president, in turn, is expected to give another Knesset member 21 days to form a coalition, followed by a 14-day extension. General elections are set to be held three months later.
PM meeting with President Moshe Katsav (Footage: Channel 1)
Sharon will convene a press conference at his Jerusalem office at 7:30 p.m. to announce his decision.
President Moshe Katsav said following his meeting with Sharon that "the prime minister has asked to dissolve the Knesset and push forward the elections, after he concluded that in its current formation, the government does not allow for a proper function of the government."
"I intend to hold further discussions and announce my decision later on Monday. I obviously believe that within the current atmosphere and circumstances, the elections should be pushed forward, if no other candidate can form a government. Given the circumstances, I believe that elections should be held as soon as possible," Katsav said.
During the day Sharon is also expected to meet with various Members of Knesset and ministers whom he would like to join his new party, including people who are not Likud members.
Sharon associates estimated 10-14 Likud ministers and Knesset members are set to join forces with the prime minister, including Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – both have already said they will be leaving the Likud. Other notable Likud names include Ronnie Bar-On and Meir Sheetrit.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who has announced Sunday he intends to stay in Likud, received a telephone call from the PM in which Sharon urged him to demonstrate "national responsibility," join him and continue to act as Israel's defense minister following the anticipated elections.
Meanwhile, countless other names of figures not currently part of the political establishment were also mentioned in recent weeks, including former Shin Bet Director Avi Dicther and former Likud Minister Dan Meridor. Outgoing Labor Party Chairman and Vice Premier Shimon Peres was also mentioned as a possible Sharon ally.
However, high ranking Labor officials predicted Monday that Peres will not join Sharon's new party, but that he will be integrated into the future government in one way or another.
The sources estimated that both Sharon and Labor Chairman Amir Peretz will offer Peres involvement in government affairs after the elections.
"Peres knows that if he quits Labor he will face very harsh public criticism," a source at the Labor party said.
Political shock waves
Meanwhile, Likud is expected to face a battle over party leadership following Sharon's withdrawal.
Chairman of the Likud faction, MK Gideon Sa'ar called on his party members, "not to take part in bringing down the Likud. This process has only one purpose: to destroy the party."
'Elections should be pushed forward.' Katsav (left), Sharon meet (Photo: GPO)
Sa'ar said that party members who are known as Sharon's supporters currently face enormous pressures to leave Likud.
"We must protect the Likud from those who try to destroy it. We can form a coalition with Shas, Agudat Yisrael, the National Religious Party and the National Union. It is up to the Likud members to decide on such a move," Sa'ar said.
An associate of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "in the long run it is better and more democratic that Ariel Sharon has left the Likud. His agenda in unfitting of the party, and it is better he leaves, than force the Likud to accept it."
"We do not intend to put an effort into assembling a coalition of 61 Knesset members. This will require Shinui and religious party Shas to sit in the government together, and this is essentially impossible," a source close to Netanyahu added.
Knesset Member and Chairman of the Likud Central Committee Tzahi Hanegbi has been appointed temporary Likud secretary-general instead of Sharon, and is expected to convene the party's Central Committee in order to set a date for primary elections for a new chairman and for the party's Knesset list.
Another faction that will be widely influenced by Sharon's move is Labor, which expects to gain from the new political scheme. Party Chairman Amir Peretz said Sunday that if Likud and the new Sharon party clash, this may benefit Labor.
Parties on the right wing of the political spectrum have already looked into the possibility of forming a new rightist bloc, which may include former Likud members, the National Religious Party, National Union and MK Avigdor Liberman's Israel Our Home.
Ynet reporters contributed to this report