Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sharon's Big Gamble
Ariel Sharon has taken the boldest gamble of his political career in asking for the dissolution of the Knesset, quitting the party he founded, starting a new party and asking for snap elections. It's a move borne of intense frustration with having his hands tied by Likud, and one which is clearly driven by a leader looking for his historic legacy. Ultimately, I think it will also prove to be a very intelligent one.

Sharon says that he is taking this step to allow him to remove the shackles in the peace process and a develop peaceful existence with the Palestinians, thus implying that future withdrawals from Palestinian territories will be likely. He says that he is looking to define the "final" borders of Israel in the next term, should he be successful.

He sits in an enviable position, a hardened hawk acting like a dove, appealing to broad sections of the Israeli public. What Sharon gains in reshaping the Israeli political landscape on his own terms is the opportunity to create a centrist party that takes advantage of all the failures and weaknesses of Israel's entrenched political incumbents. And in calling for a snap election, he places the pressure firmly on opposition parties (now Likud) to reposition themselves in the eyes of the public in a very short period of time.

But what he will still have to do is form a coalition government. His party would be projected to be the largest in the Knesset, but still not large enough to force through his own agenda alone. Analysts feel he will have to look left, towards Labour, given the "betrayal" of Likud, thus creating a new party that breathes fresh air into the often stuttering status quo of Israeli politics.

Three months is not a long time, and you feel that Sharon's move is a well-timed stroke of genius by the old campaigner. Whether it will offer the same prospects for Israel as a whole is yet to be determined, but in giving Sharon more freedom, I think the prospects are good.