Op-Ed: Why Sharon Left Likud by Morton A. Klein, National President of the ZOA
December 8, 2005

As published in
The Jewish Press

Why did Prime Minister Sharon leave the Likud and start a new party?

Sharon knows that if he decided to make some concessions within the context of real movement by the Palestinian Authority on its 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” be allowed to relocate within the Jewish state of Israel — most Likud members would agree, for better or worse.

Conversely, Sharon also knows that his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria was not popular within Likud. Those Likud Knesset members who supported these withdrawals have the least support among the Likud membership and therefore would likely do poorly in the upcoming Likud primary vote for the Likud Knesset list which will be running in the general election. The next group of Likud Knesset members will be even less supportive of Sharon`s unilateralism than the last, making it more difficult for Sharon to push through radical concessions.

Sharon`s leaving Likud and setting up his own party therefore strongly suggests that he plans more Gaza-like decisions — not a genuine reciprocal negotiating process with the Palestinian Arabs. He has made only a vague, weak statement that he doesn`t “foresee any further disengagements in the near-term,” while also talking of more “painful concessions” in the future.

Sharon could have very clearly stated, “There won`t be any more 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.

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 road map or in a unilateral and arbitrary manner….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 generally not fared well in Israel and tend to disappear within a few years. 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 Achdut Ha’avodah 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, Yachad, in 1981. It won four seats in 1984 but ended up joining Labor as a faction in 1984.

But Sharon wants to press on because of his determination to draw Israel`s final borders. According to reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, Sharon has told his inner circle that he wishes to be the leader who will determine the final borders of Israel. These reports, and the decision by Sharon to leave Likud, are worrisome because they suggest that Sharon may be obsessed with finalizing borders with the Palestinian Arabs at almost any price — despite the fact that a radical, unilateral resolution of final narrow borders might make Israel indefensible, especially since Iran, Hamas and Fatah are calling for Israel`s destruction and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas himself refuses to support Israel`s existence as a Jewish state.

In these circumstances, Israel should be making it clear that it will not even contemplate further concessions until the PA fulfills its Oslo obligations to disarm and jail terrorists and dismantle terrorist groups; end the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Gaza; close the bomb factories; put Israel on its maps; and end the promotion of hatred and murder of Jews in PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and children`s camps.

It would also require that Abbas`s Fatah abrogate its charter calling for Israel`s destruction and supporting the “armed struggle”; that Hamas members be prohibited from sitting in the PA government unless they abrogate their charter calling for Israel`s destruction and the murder of all Jews. The PA would also have to publicly proclaim its acceptance of Israel`s existence as a Jewish state.

Israel should concede nothing before these obligations are met fully and completely by the PA. An Israeli government that took this strong and courageous stand would win the support of the Israel public.

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