Photo: Eli Elgart
Labor’s Peretz – will he head emergency government?
Photo: Eli Elgart
Photo: AP
Sharon and Mofaz – will rivals dethrone PM?
Photo: AP
Likud works to topple Sharon
New ruling party initiative aims to persuade Likud, Labor, Shinui and National Religious Party to join forces in bid to dethrone prime minister by getting more than 60 parliamentarians to agree on replacement
While Ariel Sharon’s new party continues to surge in polls, Likud members are currently working to forge a coalition of 63 Knesset members that would dethrone the prime minister ahead of the upcoming elections, scheduled for March 28.


The ambitious move aims to take advantage of the “presidential decree” set to go into effect within two weeks, allowing any Knesset member that presents majority support of 61 MKs to be appointed as prime minister until the elections date established by law, that is, November 2006.


Meanwhile, source at Kadima, Sharon’s new party, have expressed concern about the possible formulation of such an anti-Sharon coalition.


The scheme apparently aims to bring together the Likud, Labor, Shinui, and the National Religious Party while keeping far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties out of the picture. Notably, the four above-mentioned parties total 63 Knesset members (26 in Likud, 18 in Labor, 14 in Shinui, and 5 in the NRP.)


Should the four parties join forces and agree on a Sharon replacement, they would present the candidate before the president and effectively remove the prime minister from his post.


At this time it is difficult to see how Labor leader Amir Peretez and Likud leadership candidate Benjamin Netanyahu could overcome their personal animosity and deep ideological disagreements and join forces in forming a new government, but the recent political turmoil in Israel demonstrated everything is indeed possible.


Emergency government headed by Peretz?


A senior Likud source no concrete negotiations were taking place between the factions, but rather, only informal talks.


"I assume that the subject may become relevant again if the major parties continue to plummet in the polls. At present I estimate that the initiative has a 10 percent chance of materializing," he said.


Moreover, this political ploy is expected to face many obstacles, the first being Labor Chairman Amir Peretz's strong objection to the move. According to Peretz associates, Likud members have been working on promoting the initiative for over two weeks now.


"What the Likud activists propose is an emergency social government headed by Peretz until November, with his commitment not to undertaken any diplomatic movies during this period," a Labor source explained.


Sources close to Peretz said the Likud was reacting with “hysteria" to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's defections, as it has when other senior party members opted for Kadima.


"When Tzachi Hanegbi quit the Likud, there was hysteria in the ranks, and now, after Mofaz announced he was leaving, they approached us again in a bid to raise 61 votes in the Knesset. But we will not cooperate with this," another source at Labor said.


Peretz himself said that he believed in "clean politics, with ideology, values and a way. I believe in the decision of the voter, without any twists and turns."


Labor Faction Chairman Ephraim Sneh also dismissed the prospects of such move, saying "no one approached us, and there is no chance we will accept such an offer. Labor is determined to go to elections and lead the country to a political revolution."


'Sharon exaggerated'


Many in the political arena believe that if the move comes to fruition, it would happen after the election of a new Likud chairman.


However, two things must take place for the move to materialize: First, Peretz must continue to drop in poll ratings, and second, Shinui must fall apart. Even then, it is not clear whether the Likud and Labor, who have been in unity governments many times in the past, could do it again, and agree on a prime minister.


According to a Likud source, "the disgust and fear from Sharon are so great, especially after Mofaz's move, that everything is possible."


Knesset Member Michael Ratzon (Likud,) who brought up the initiative immediately after Sharon's departure from the ruling party, told Ynet: "Mr. Sharon exaggerated, and as far as we know, this isn't the last Knesset member he wants to take from the Likud."


Some suspect that Likud Minister Yisrael Katz is on his way to Kadima as well.


Ratzon continued: "Sharon must not be allowed to totally destroy the fabric of Israeli politics. Everyone wants to vomit already from his management. Power must be wrested away from him, people must make tradeoffs, and then we'll see how he (Sharon) does."


Sources in Shinui, asking not to be quoted, said the initiative has reached them too, and that they won't rule out the possibility that they will join Labor and Likud, without the ultra-Orthodox if possible, depending on the conditions set on the table.


However, Shinui Chairman Tommy Lapid said: "This is the first I've heard about it, I've learned about this from the media, no one has spoken to me and I haven't spoken to anyone. If such an initiative does indeed exist, we're not interested in spilled milk."


Knesset Member Eliezer Sandberg (Shinui) also ruled out the initiative, saying: "There's no joint camp united around this plan. We're not going to set up a coalition just to try and stop Ariel Sharon."  


Attila Somfalvi, Ilan Marciano, Ronny Sofer, and Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to the story


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