Israel needs new elections
Time to realign the political system

June 10, 2004

It's time for some clarity in Israeli politics. Now that the governing coalition built by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has collapsed, the country would be better served by new elections.

The point of contention within the Israeli right is whether Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, including the abandonment of settlements, is a wise move. His Likud Party has already rejected a referendum on the question and, this week, two hawkish cabinet ministers resigned over Sharon's plans to proceed with a watered-down version of his Gaza plan.

It's hard for some people to accept, but Sharon has become a centrist in Israeli politics. Or at least, he has moved from the extreme right closer to the center. Whether his plan is just a delaying tactic, as some on the left fear, or a genuine attempt to lead Israel in a new direction, giving up the settlements is a correct policy. And once Israel concedes it doesn't need the settlements in Gaza, the same logic will eventually apply to the West Bank, no matter what Sharon's intentions.

Sharon might be able to hang on to power if he negotiates a new coalition agreement with the Labor Party. But he would do much better by turning to the nation and letting the people vote in new elections. If he is re-elected - and all indications are that he would be - he would then have a mandate to proceed with his withdrawal plan. Without a new vote, he will not have that mandate.

Might this be the end of the Likud Party? Possibly. But with such stalwarts as former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, alongside Sharon in supporting withdrawal from the territories, it might be time to realign the Israel political system. That means new elections. Sharon should go for it.

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