Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has resigned from Likud, the party he helped found, and is starting his own centrist party to run in new parliamentary elections.
The Head Heeb has a spectacular analysis of the political implications of the move. One major impact is that Israeli voters now have clear choices in the forthcoming elections. For the past several years, the two major parties, Labor and Likud, have drifted closer to the center, including significant time spent as coalition partners. But Sharon's split will push Likud firmly back into the ranks of the nationalist right. Meanwhile, Labor just took a hard turn to the left with the upset victory of union activist Amir Peretz in their leadership primary. Many people are expecting moderates from both parties to defect to Sharon's new National Responsibility Party, setting up a contest with a definitive left, right, and center.
The timing of this move couldn't be more dramatic. As Fruits and Votes reminds us, the Israeli election will take place soon after the Palestinian legislative elections, which undoubtedly will play a crucial role in spinning the results. And with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shimon Peres now a persona non grata in Labor, he too might jump to Sharon's boat ("Kiss of Death"? I'm not sure I'd go that far. Meryl Yourish is calling Sharon to win the PM slot again, and if I had to put my money down, I'd place my bet there as well).
Armand wonders about the impact on Shinui, a pre-existing centrist party and the one I currently identify with. Assuming that the new party doesn't suck all the life out of Shinui (either by voter or political defections), I'd assume they'd join a coalition with Sharon. However, the reaction of Shinui chairman Tommy Lapid was far from welcoming. Shinui currently has 14 members in the Knesset, a substantial bloc in the 120 member body (by comparison, Likud had 40 members pre-defection). I would not be surprised, though, if some of those seats were lost to Sharoniks. At least one commentator thinks Shinui is "done".
Predictions remain fractured (as they should at this early stage). Cosmic-X thinks that Sharon is going to be spending time with grandkids soon enough. But then, he thinks that his new party's support will draw mostly from far-left Meretz and Labor dissidents, which strikes me as spectacularly unlikely. "ingenious" is the term used by Clarity and Resolve, and as I said above that's the camp I tend to fall into. One assessment I have no qualms signing onto though: It's going to be messy.
By far the best overall round-up is at IsraellyCool.