It is now official: Sharon does the splits.
As anticipated, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has left the Likud Party . [The rest of this entry has not been changed from the original.]The Head Heeb reports that Israeli papers say Sharon will establish a new centrist list for the upcoming elections that were precipated by the withdrawal of the Labor Party from the coalition. Other prominent Likud MKs may join Sharon, including Dan Meridor.
Even though Israel has a closed-list form of proportional representation (with nationwide elections for 120 seats) in which we normally assume party reputation and organization are much more important thanindividual candidates, Jonathan (The Head Heeb) points out that this list will be something of an exception:
It seems likely that Sharon will try to put together a “quality list” of elder statesmen, in the hope that the stature of the people at the top of the list will make up for the lack of party organization.
As for the party competition, I think Jonathan is right about the likely result if this new list in fact forms:
Likud as we know it is coming to an end. Instead of being several parties in one, the Likud will once again be the party of the nationalist right. The next election will see a fairly clear choice between three parties, each representing a different approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Peretz’ vision of a negotiated peace, the Sharon list for further unilateral withdrawals, and the Likud for maintenance of the status quo. The factions also seem ready to break down along economic lines into social democrats, populists and neoliberals, although the latter two will be represented on both the Sharon and Likud lists.
Despite the ease with which new parties can gain representation under Israel’s low-threshold elections, forming successful new parties is not as easy as it seems. (In other words, party reputation and organization do matter.) Jonathan reminds us of
David Ben-Gurion’s Rafi party, which was formed [for the 1965 election] to great fanfare but won only ten Knesset seats and faded away after a single term.
A party formed by a sitting PM bolting his own party and taking other prominent leaders with him should be different, however (as Jonathan notes).
This upcoming election will be really interesting to watch! It will take place soon after the Palestinian legislative elections, due in January. One must always, unfortunately, be circumspect about expressing optimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But could we be seeing the beginnings of the domestic-politics shifts on each side that are the necessary, though not sufficient, conditions for a resolution? One dares to hope…