Cablegate: Katsav Sets March 28 Elections, Gives Sharon Room

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: Knesset representatives and President Katsav
agreed November 23 to schedule elections for March 28, and to
dissolve the Knesset by presidential decree, a measure that
will allow Prime Minister Sharon to appoint new ministers
during the period until elections without Knesset approval.
Katsav signed the decree dissolving the Knesset later in the
day. Polls released on November 22 show that Sharon will win
another term as prime minister, with his new party winning
some 30-33 seats in the next Knesset, the Labor Party winning
25-26, and Likud winning only 12-15. The seven-way race for
Likud Party leader, meanwhile, is heating up, with polls
showing Binyamin Netanyahu with a lead over both Defense
Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. End

2. Elections Procedures

-- Knesset Law and Justice Committee Chairman Micki Eitan and
President Katsav agreed November 23 on a March 28, 2006,
election date and on dissolution of the Knesset by
presidential decree. Katsav signed the decree only hours
after reaching the agreement.

-- According to the Basic Laws, after the President signs an
order to dissolve the Knesset, the order is published and
takes effect in 21 days. As part of the Katsav-Eitan
agreement and in order to facilitate March 28 elections, the
21-day period will not begin until December 8. During the
21-day period, a minimum of 61 MKs can petition the President
to task an MK with forming a new government. If such a
candidate is not found, the order goes into effect at the end
of the 21 days. Observers see no chance that any MK will be
able to form a new government.

-- Dissolution of the Knesset by presidential decree allows
Prime Minister Sharon to appoint new ministers during the
period up until elections without Knesset approval, but as
part of the agreement, Sharon can appoint such ministers only
from among Knesset members.

3. The Changing Government

-- With the resignation of all eight Labor Party ministers
taking effect by November 24, Sharon's new Cabinet will
initially consist of 12 ministers.

-- The Likud Party decided November 22 to remain in the
government at least until it has chosen a new party leader.
If Likud resigns, Sharon would be left with six ministers in
his Cabinet.

4. Primaries

-- The Likud Party has set its first-round leadership vote
for December 19. If no candidate receives over 40 percent in
the first round, a second round is to take place on December
22. The entire Likud membership of some 150,000 votes in
these primaries.

-- Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, Education Minister
Limor Livnat, former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, MK
Uzi Landau, and settler leader Moshe Feiglin are contenders
in the Likud Party leadership race.

-- The primary for the Likud Party's Knesset list is
scheduled for January 3. Likud's 3,000-member Central
Committee votes on the composition of this list.

-- The primary for Labor's Knesset list is scheduled for
January 17. Labor's 3,000-member Central Committee will vote
on the list.

-- Israel Radio reported November 23 that Shimon Peres will
meet with new Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz and is
expected to tell him that he has completed his "time out" of
politics and is returning to Labor Party political activity.
Reports are unclear as to whether Peres will seek a Knesset
seat or opt to work from outside the parliament.

5. Sharon's New Party

-- Sharon has tentatively agreed to name his new party,
"National Responsibility" and not, as some reports claimed,
"Kadima" ("forward").

-- The following 13 Likud MKs have announced that they will
join Sharon's party, entitling the new party to bring with it
some portion of Likud's finances: Finance Minister Ehud
Olmert, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Tourism Minister
Avraham Hirchson, Minister of Internal Security Gideon Ezra,
Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, Omri Sharon, Eli
Aflalo, Ruhama Avraham, Ronnie Bar-On, Ze'ev Boim, Marina
Solodkin, Majallie Whbee, Ya'akov Edri.

-- The Knesset House Committee voted November 23 to split the
Likud Party into two factions: the Likud Faction and the
National Responsibility Faction, comprised of 14 former Likud

-- MK Chaim Ramon announced November 23 that he is resigning
from the Labor Party to join Sharon's new party.

-- Former Am Ehad MK David Tal also announced November 23
that he will join Sharon's party.

6. Polls

-- Three separate polls taken since Sharon quit Likud show
that, if voting were held now, Sharon's new party would
receive 30 to 33 of the Knesset's 120 seats, making it the
largest party. The Labor Party would become the second
largest party, with 26 seats, and the Likud Party, losing two
thirds of its current seats, would win only 12-15 seats.

-- Two separate polls among Likud voters produced disparate
results, although both showed Netanyahu in the lead among
Likud chairman contenders. In one poll of Likud voters,
Netanyahu won 51 percent, with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom each taking 15 percent.
In another poll, Netanyahu takes only 26 percent, with Mofaz
winning 23 percent and Shalom 16 percent.

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