JERUSALEM (Feb. 19)
Ariel Sharon’s move Sunday to formalize his resignation from the government is being seen at home and abroad as a victory for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, whose peace diplomacy has been under fierce attack by the Likud hard-liner.
Sharon formally submitted his resignation at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. According to law, it becomes effective 48 hours later.
The removal of Sharon from the corridors of power, even if voluntary, should make it increasingly difficult for him to wield it.
But many pundits are warning Shamir and his supporters not to underestimate the political clout the outgoing minister of industry and trade retains. They say his potential to make serious trouble for the 74-year-old prime minister should not be taken lightly.
Sharon announced his resignation in front of 2,600 delegates to the Likud Central Committee meeting in Tel Aviv on Feb. 12, without informing Shamir beforehand. The meeting degenerated into bedlam when Sharon intervened to try to prevent a vote on a policy speech delivered by Shamir.
It marked a final split between the two men, who have been battling for years to control Likud.
Shamir’s aides had said last week that if Sharon changed his mind about resigning, the prime minister would simply fire him. But that turned out not to be necessary.
Sharon told a farewell news conference Sunday afternoon that he would devote his entire energy to rally Likud against the “dangers” of Shamir’s peace policies.
NO PLANS TO LEAVE THE LIKUD
He reiterated his intention to run for the party leadership. If successful, he would head the Likud list in the next elections, with the office of prime minister as the prize.
Sharon said he would devote himself now to “touring the party branches and working as a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.”
He flatly denied rumors that he might leave Likud to head up a coalition of extreme right-wing parties.
Sharon’s political future may well hinge on Shamir’s ability to steer the Likud through the treacherous shoals of the peace process.
But according to many observers, Sharon will benefit whether Shamir fails or succeeds. Failure to achieve the immediate goal of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue to discuss Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would most likely lead the Labor Party to abandon its two-year coalition with Likud, they say.
Labor may well be able to form a narrow-based coalition of its own with the leftist and religious parties. In such an event, Sharon would have the backing of other dissident hard-liners in Likud, plus the enthusiastic support of Tehiya and other factions to the right of Likud, in a bid to topple Shamir.
If current diplomatic efforts succeed, that could only mean Shamir made a major concession. It would mean he agreed either to allow Arab residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the Palestinian elections or to the inclusion of certain Palestinian deportees in the delegation that would negotiate with Israel.
Whatever the concession, it would presumably trigger a revolt among Likud hard-liners and among the rightist forces outside Likud. The disgruntled would naturally look to Sharon for leadership, the pundits say.