A Sudden Urge to Retire

Wednesday night, Sept 21, debkafile first learned of the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon‘s decision to retire from political life.

(See HOT POINTS below).

It had been generally assumed that his loss of support in his own ruling Likud would prompt him to quit the party and form a new left-of-center party alliance, possibly with Labor leader and crony Shimon Peres.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly this month, he declared his willingness to follow up the evacuation of the Gaza Strip with further concessions to the Palestinians to help them form their own state. This assertion was widely interpreted in Israel as a leave-taking from the nationalist Likud party and a declaration of intent to move over to the left-leaning, pro-Palestinian elements in politics.

He was misinterpreted, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political sources in Jerusalem now maintain. Sharon has in fact decided not to split Likud by creating a new party but to throw in the sponge if the next party vote on Monday, Sept. 26, goes against him.

But the question is what motivated him to pursue steps in recent weeks that were bound to lead him to the end of his road in politics?

According to our Israeli political experts, he had pretty strong reasons:

1. Sharon and his close circle persisted in presenting the pull-back from Gaza as the pinnacle of his political career, one which brought him and Israeli tremendous kudos abroad. It was also supposed to have extended his lease of life as prime minister. But he discovered belatedly that he would not be allowed to conduct a policy contrary to the basic principles of his party and stay on as its leader.

2. At the age of 78, he is loath to cut the same figure as his vice premier Shimon Peres who at 83 is still fighting political battles.

3. Israel faces intense pressure from Washington to follow up on the Gaza withdrawal by relinquishing sections of the West Bank, which are inhabited by larger Jewish populations than the Gaza Strip’s communities. This task is daunting and agonizing enough for him to dump it on the shoulders of his main adversary and likely successor, Binyamin Netanyahu.

4. Very little is left of the prime ministers’ assurance to the country that the evacuation of the Gaza Strip would give Israel greater security than before. The reports Israel intelligence puts before him present the sorry prospect of an embattled Gaza turning into a second Lebanon or even Afghanistan. They also tell him that the partial lull in terrorist attacks will be short-lived. Palestinian terrorist leaders have set March 2006 as the date for resuming full-scale war on Israel.

5. The Bush administration insists on his pursuing the next steps with the Palestinians side by side with the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But Sharon does not trust Abu Mazen as a partner for important political steps. And any Israeli leader joining forces with a Palestinian who lets terrorists like Hamas take over commits political suicide. Sharon prefers to bequeath this fate to his contenders.

6. And finally, the pull-out from the Gaza Strip placed an enormous burden on the Israel economy. It has stunted the growth just beginning to emerge after five years of terror. The resurgence of the violence next year will very likely condemn Israel to its third recession in five years.

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