Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called on his Likud party to accept talks with Labour to form a coalition, or risk early elections. Voting has started, with the result expected later today. Sharon’s coalition was shattered last week when he ousted the Shinui party for voting against the 2005 budget. With only 40 of parliament’s 120 seats it is now essential that Sharon secure a deal with Labour if he is to avoid calling elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.
He is hoping Likud members, even those who are opposed to his Gaza withdrawal plan, will not be willing to take a gamble that big. The Washington-backed deal involves evacuating all Jewish settlements in Gaza, and four in the West Bank. Likud hardliners call the plan a “reward for terror” but most Israelis are in favour of a pull-back, and they are the ones that will decide the future of the party if early elections are held.
Sharon’s government will have to step down if next year’s budget is not passed by March, but it could happen earlier if he is challenged with a vote of no-confidence.