New York – Months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to rule out leaving the Likud party. Therefore it should not have come as a complete shock that Sharon had finally decided to leave Likud and start a new party.
Nonetheless, this decision by Sharon strongly indicates that he may have decided to continue with unilateral or radical withdrawals and concessions, should he win a new term. Sharon knows that if he decided to make some concessions to the Palestinian Arabs within the context of real movement by the Palestinian Authority on their 12-year old commitments such as disarming and dismantling the terror groups, arresting terrorists, ending incitement, changing the names of streets, schools and sports teams named after suicide bombers, and agreeing to stop demanding that Arab “refugees” are allowed to relocate within the Jewish State of Israel, most Likud members would agree, for better or worse.
This realization makes it likely that Sharon plans more Gaza-like decisions — not a genuine reciprocal negotiating process with the Palestinian Arabs. More proof of this is Sharon’s relatively weak recent statement that he doesn’t “foresee any further disengagements in the near-term,” and his mention of more “painful concessions” in the future. Sharon could have very clearly stated, “there won’t be anymore unilateral concessions or any concessions without substantial movement by the PA to fulfill its 12 year old Oslo obligations on terrorism and incitement. But he chose a more nebulous declaration.”
Prime Minister Sharon also understands that his biggest supporters of the Gaza Plan within Likud have the least support among the Likud membership and therefore will likely do poorly in the upcoming Likud primary vote for the Likud Knesset list which will be running in the general election. Those opposed to his Gaza Plan have the strongest support among Likud voters. Remember, Likud members voted 60%-40% opposing the Gaza Plan. This means that the next group of Likud Knesset members will be even less supportive of Sharon’s unilateralism than the previous Likud Knesset members, making it more difficult for Sharon to push through strong concessions.
But, if Sharon were not planning unilateral or largely one-sided withdrawals and concessions, he would not need to leave Likud because he would not have to worry about most Likud Knesset members. Again, a Sharon policy of reciprocity would likely be accepted by most Likud members, this gives more credence to the idea that major concessions are planned.
As Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Sharon knows that the Likud as a party will never accept his dictates for additional withdrawals, in the framework of the Roadmap or in a unilateral and arbitrary manner, as happened in Gush Katif. Every territorial compromise in the future will be contingent upon a referendum. Therefore, he has been left with no choice but to [try to] carry out his policies via a different party.”
Whether Sharon’s new party will succeed or not is far from clear. Breakaway third parties have not fared well in Israel. David Ben Gurion departed Mapai (the precursor of Labor) in 1965 (two years after he stepped down as Prime Minister) and set up the Rafi party with close supporters Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres. It won 10 seats in the first elections it contested, but did not supplant Mapai and in 1968 it was reabsorbed into Mapai and Abdut Haavodah to form Labor. Yigal Yadin started the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) in 1976, which had 16 Mks at one stage, but it broke up after three years. Ezer Weizman established another centrist party, Yahad, in 1981. It won four seats in 1984 but ended up joining Labor as a faction in 1984.
ZOA President Morton A. Klein said, “Recent reports in the New York Times and elsewhere have stated that ‘PM Sharon tells intimates that he would like to be the leader who defines, at last, the borders of Israel.’ These reports and the decision by Sharon to leave Likud are worrisome because it indicates that Sharon may be obsessed with finalizing borders with the Palestinian Arabs at almost any price. At the end of his life, Sharon may wish to go down in history for having achieved this. But we are deeply worried that if he succeeds in some final, radical, unilateral resolution of final narrow borders, Israel may become indefensible and the Arab terrorists even more encouraged. At a time when Iran and Hamas and Fatah are calling for Israel’s destruction, PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas refuses to support Israel’s existence as a Jewish State, we urge Sharon to be extremely careful in making any decision of a serious Israeli retreat that may inspire its enemies.
“We would hope that Ariel Sharon will be pressured by Knesset members, the media and the public to make clear that Israel will not even contemplate considering any concessions until the PA fulfills its Oslo obligations to disarm and dismantle terrorists; arrest terrorists and keep them in prison; end the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Gaza; close the bomb factories; put Israel on its maps; Abbas’ Fatah party abrogates its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and supporting the ‘armed struggle;’ now allowing Hamas members to sit in the PA government unless they abrogate their charter calling for Israel’s destruction and the murder of all Jews; ends the promotion of hatred and murder of Jews in their schools, media, sermons, children’s camps; and finally publicly proclaims their support for the existence of a Jewish State in Israel.
“In fact, we would hope that all candidates and all legitimate pro-Israel parties would take this stance. These obligations by the PA should have been fulfilled 12 years ago when Oslo began. Israel should concede nothing before these obligations are met fully and completely by the Palestinian Authority. We believe the Israeli public will once again show that they support a strong and courageous stand by their leaders against one-sided concessions of Israel’s holy land, and against any compromise in its security, and in favor of strong retaliation against terrorists and terrorism.”