What do I know? Maybe Sharon has done well to leave the Likud. If anything, his departure signals how far to the right the party has gone. It was obviously too difficult for Sharon to continue to survive when the hostility from his own party was so great, and while Labor has pulled out after Peretz became its leader.
I think Sharon has made a mistake. He should have stuck it out and fought inside the Likud, especially now that Labor is run by a man who will express values that are significantly different than the Likud’s. Instead, he’s going to try to do the impossible: build a viable 3rd party and do it in sufficient time that it will be competitive and also give him the opportunity to be Prime Minister again. Ben Gurion tried this and failed. The Center party from a couple of years ago tried this and failed. Shinui became co-opted by the system once a membership in the Cabinet was dangled before them.
Before Peretz came to lead Labor, I believe Sharon might have had a shot at many of the working classes and Mizrachim who would have voted for Sharon, or alternatively, for Likud. But Peretz is certain to draw some of those votes away. Peres has indicated that he’ll remain with Labor, so he won’t be bringing anybody to the new party. Therefore, the numbers don’t work. Between Shinui, Meretz (Yachad), Labor, Likud and Shas, there are probably about 90 Knesset seats in play. But you can assume that both Likud and Labor will keep about 15 and 20 seats respectively. So there are another 50 – 60 seats in play and Sharon will probably need 25-30 to win an election. Where will he find those types of numbers? He’d have to pull away half of the Likud vote, a third of the Labor vote and receive about half of Shinui and Shas’s mandates. He’ll have to do this while being criticized from both the Left and the Right.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he should have continued to use the Likud as a base.
If I’m right and he ends up as a leader of a secondary party, then the question becomes a vexing one – who leads? Who will be the next leader of the country? Will it be Netanyahu or Peretz? Is Mofaz a possibility, or even Silvan Shalom? The problem is that nobody on that list seems to be cut of the same cloth as Rabin, Peres or Sharon. None seems to be charismatic enough, or capable enough, to lead at a very challenging time and perhaps even a decisive time in Israel’s history. Will anybody even be able to put together a viable coalition? Will anybody have the broad support Sharon carries among so many centrist voters?
As I said when the guy with the profound moustache won the leadership race for Labor, the coming months are certain to be interesting.