Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Sharon Invites Peres to Help Build a Coalition

This is potentially very good news, especially if it means Sharon can throw out the National Religious Party.

JERUSALEM, July 12 - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday invited his political rival - and longtime friend - Shimon Peres to bring his left-leaning Labor Party into the faltering government coalition. The move would bolster Mr. Sharon's efforts to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sharon, 76, Israel's most prominent hawk, and Mr. Peres, 80, its best-known dove, have vastly different approaches to the conflict with the Palestinians and lead parties that have little in common. But they appear to share enough short-term interests to arrange a politically convenient union.

Mr. Sharon's coalition, led by his right-wing Likud Party, has lost several members recently and now controls just 59 of the 120 seats in Parliament, making it vulnerable to collapse. In addition, Mr. Sharon's main political initiative, the Gaza withdrawal plan, faces significant opposition within the Likud Party.

Mr. Peres and his Labor party would bring 21 seats to the coalition, giving Mr. Sharon a comfortable majority in Parliament. Labor lawmakers also tend to be more enthusiastic about Mr. Sharon's Gaza withdrawal than those in his own party.

Despite the cordial meeting between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Peres on Monday morning, the Labor Party raised a no-confidence vote against the government during a parliamentary session in the afternoon. Each leader tried to convince his party that the arrangement could work, but skeptics remained in both camps.

"If you don't want this or that, we can go to elections. That's the way it is," Mr. Sharon told Likud lawmakers. "I am saying this in the clearest possible way: this situation cannot continue."

But some Likud hard-liners oppose joining with Labor, saying the party is soft on security issues and would seek to make additional concessions to the Palestinians.
But that is precisely the point: with Labor in the government, Sharon would no longer be beholden to a bunch of diehards in Likud. Let us hope this coalition becomes a reality, and Israel is able to pull out of Gaza once and for all.