Analysis / Ariel Sharon's New Faction Is a One-term Party

Politicians may be hesitant to join Sharon if they can win a higher place on their current party's list.

In 1999, Israel witnessed the founding of the Center Party. With four figures at its helm, all of whom laid claim to the crown, the new movement earned the moniker "The Prime Ministers Party".

One ended up as transportation minister, the second landed in the Ministry of Tourism. The third and fourth can barely be found to this day. The party that Sharon wants to establish can be nicknamed "The Ministers Party". Sharon's plan calls for no less than 10 ministers in the current government, as well as two or three figures from without - all of whom view themselves as worthy of ministerial portfolios, if not very senior positions - in the third Sharon government.

Even if the most optimistic poll numbers are accurate and Sharon puts together the next government, it is clear that at least half of those who are currently ministers, as well as the so-called "Dichters and Bravermans," will have to get used to the cold, back benches of the 17th Knesset.

Some of them will not be ministers even if they remain in their current parties, where there is at least a future beyond the upcoming term, which will be Sharon's last and the new party's first and final term. After Sharon, there will be no party. All the deserters will return home to their parties, or will go home.

A Sharon aide met Sunday with a senior political figure from one of the factions. "Come with us," the aide said. "We are on the verge of making history. You can't miss this opportunity." The figure declined the offer for the obvious reason - what spot on the list would he receive in the Arik Party. Sixth or seventh is already no-man's land.

If this figure runs for the Knesset in his current home, he would have a better chance of finishing higher on his party list, enabling him to serve the State of Israel in the next coalition. Without favors from Arik. Without begging Omri to put in a good word to his dad.

Sharon's associates continued to insist Sunday that he has yet to decide while in the same breath stepped up preparations for takeoff. The weekly cabinet session on Sunday resembled the characteristic ending to an episode of "Benny Hill", when the frame moves into fast-forward and all the characters run in circles after one another.

Everyone exchanged whispers with one another in open circles and closed circles. Ehud Olmert, Sharon's guy, attracted the most attention while conversing with Ministers Tzipi Livni and Meir Sheetrit. Everything was out in the open, yet, at the same time, secret and ambiguous.

Sharon met Sunday morning with the heads of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions. United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni and Avraham Ravitz came to Sharon armed with the opinion of Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman. He shouldn't quit, the rabbi said, it will not be good for him.

UTJ MK Shmuel Halpert told Sharon of a conversation he had in the early 80s with Menachem Begin. "When I am in the Likud," Begin told Halpert, "it is a great power. But me without the Likud is worth nothing."

Sure, Sharon said, but they didn't do to him what they are doing to me. Tell me, Sharon said, turning to coalition whip Gideon Sa'ar, who took part in the conversation, did you send them to try to convince me?

Add it all up, it still does not mean that Sharon has not decided. He made the decision to quit over the course of the weekend, notwithstanding the risks, the difficulties, and the obstacles he faces. He told some of his aides that he has yet to decide. He told other aides to say that he had not decided. On Sunday, the final preparations were made and the last consultations were conducted as to what course of action to take in the run-up to the decisive day, which is not far-off. The Sharon camp weighed asking the president to dissolve the Knesset, considered in which method to make the announcement, and mulled what the prime minister will say before the Likud faction meeting on Monday.