Through the negotiating team he set up, Ariel Sharon is
conducting negotiations with all the parties that could
conceivably join his coalition, but obviously he has certain
priorities and preferences.
Pay careful attention to what Sharon says. The voice is his
voice, but the hands belong to his son Omri, who is really in
charge. He is his father's main advisor and generally the
father does not go against his son.
In last week's Likud Party meeting, Sharon referred to the
current negotiations as negotiations to expand the
government and the coalition, rather than negotiations to set
up a new government or coalition. This distinction may
sound innocent enough, but it is not innocent in the least.
Rather it serves as an indication of how the Sharon family
would like to see the new coalition take shape.
The fact the only MK included on the negotiating team is
Gidon Saar is also of great significance. On the surface one
might claim Saar is serving in the role of Likud Party
chairman in the Knesset and coalition chairman and as such it
is perfectly natural for him to be included on the
negotiating team. When efforts are made to expand the
coalition, the person at its head is a central figure. But in
this case matters are not as simple as they appear.
The coalition Sharon wants most is Likud-Shinui-NRP and . . .
United Torah Jewry. Yes. The big mess Sharon has been
creating is just intended to bring another five MKs into the
coalition, the five UTJ MKs. By repeatedly saying he won't
accept ostracism he is signaling to Shinui it must retreat
from its opposition to UTJ.
This is why he has been speaking in terms of expanding the
current coalition base and why he included Gidon Saar on the
negotiating team, for Saar's great ambition is to keep Labor
out. This is also why he already appointed Ilan Shalgi to
replace Paritzky as minister. Had his plan been to alter the
entire structure of the coalition and the distribution of
portfolios by bringing in Labor, why was it so urgent for him
to include Shalgi in the government? Thus he has also been
conducting intensive negotiations with Labor while
negotiations with UTJ were left on the back burner, saving it
Of course Shinui would prefer Labor be brought in to set up a
secular government. To prevent this from happening Sharon
must conduct serious negotiations with Labor to demonstrate
that he is making every effort to bring that party in and
then, at just the right moment, some sort of crisis will
arise to ruin the shidduch. Sharon is hoping this
stunt will be enough to force Shinui to accept UTJ in order
to preserve the current coalition. The alternative would be
not to include Shinui in the government, which it certainly
does not want.
The big question is after Shinui agrees to sit in the same
coalition with UTJ, will UTJ agree to sit in the same
coalition as Shinui? This question can only be decided by
gedolei Torah after all the facts and figures have
been laid before them.
Sharon's second option is to set up a large unity government
including Shinui, Labor, the NRP and the chareidi parties.
The more the merrier! Sound familiar? This also fits the
description of a broader coalition rather than a new
coalition, but such a large coalition would be very complex
to manage and maintain.
Sharon's third option is a government without Shinui and with
Labor, UTJ and Shas. If the NRP also wants to stay in such a
The finally option is a secular unity government consisting
of Likud, Labor and Shinui, which is highly unlikely.
When all is said and done the option of leaving the current
situation -- a minority government -- in place also exists.
The current government has a majority in the Knesset on
virtually every matter even though it is a minority
government, but clearly this entails a challenge. It requires
exacting discipline, having to enlist support of outsiders
and having perfect attendance at all votes. Even when it
comes time to pass the budget it will also be possible to
achieve a majority with this coalition. It could cost a few
hundred million, but that would definitely be a reasonable