PM's Six Options

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is facing six options following his defeat in the Likud referendum on the disengagement plan:

1. Sharon tells the public that since the matter is one of utmost national significance concerning each and every Israeli and not just Likud members, he intends to put the disengagement plan up for approval in a nationwide referendum.

This will require the formulation of a referendum bill and its legislation by the Knesset. The law will stipulate that the referendum be open to all citizens who are eligible to vote in the Knesset elections.

The referendum will be managed by the Central Elections Committee, under the chairmanship of a retired Supreme Court judge, and will be conducted along the same lines as Knesset elections. It will ask eligible voters whether they are "for" or "against" the disengagement plan.

2. Sharon informs the president that he wishes to disband the Knesset. The prime minister alluded to this possibility in an interview with Channel 2 on Friday night.

Under the Basic Law on The Government, Sharon cannot make the decision to go to new Knesset elections, but requires President Moshe Katsav's consent.

Sharon must inform Katsav that a majority in the Knesset opposes the government, which is therefore unable to properly manage the affairs of the state, leaving him with no alternative but to go to the polls. The president does not have to cede to Sharon's request.

Under the law, during the 21 days between a decision to disband the Knesset and its publication in the Government Gazette, a group of 61 MKs is entitled to ask the president to impose the task of forming a government on an alternative lawmaker, and the president is required to cede to their request.

In other words, Sharon would be taking a big chance by choosing the option of going to the president.

3. Sharon disbands the Knesset by means of special legislation that is approved by the Knesset and leads to its dissolution, some three years before the election date determined in the law - November 2007.

To do this, however, the prime minister needs the consent of the other Knesset factions, or at least that of the main opposition party, Labor, which is bound to welcome such an initiative. For Labor, new elections would mean a chance to either reclaim the reins of power or to at least increase its representation in the Knesset.

4. Sharon announces that he accepts the Likud members' decision and intends to formulate a somewhat scaled-down plan that will - perhaps - win the support of his party.

5. Sharon chooses to circumvent the Likud and seek first cabinet and then Knesset approval for the plan. He is not guaranteed, however, of a majority in the cabinet, with the big question being how ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom will vote after the plan has been rejected by the Likud members. The three could insist that they have to accept the majority decision in the party, and join up with ministers Uzi Landau, Tzachi Hanegbi and Natan Sharansky.

6. Sharon informs the president that he has decided to resign.

In such a case, the president imposes the task of forming a government on the lawmaker he believes has the best chance to do so - in all likelihood Benjamin Netanyahu.

This option appears to be the least likely, as Sharon has already announced he has no intention of bowing to the extremists in the Likud and right-wing parties.