As the speculation that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to split from the Likud party, which he headed for six years, he told the Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, that he expects the two to work together in the future.

 
 
The statements of Sharon came as he is facing intense pressure from his own Likud party, and the new leader of the Labor party Amir Peretz, who is pulling the party out of the Sharon government.   
 
Sharon intends to split from the Likud and form a “centrist party”, Israeli online daily Haaretz reported.
 
Sharon told Peres that he “will not let him turn away from the mission he is destined for”, “I will not let you walk away, I will call on your assistance in the future”, Sharon told Peres.
 
Ministers close to Sharon said that he signaled that he intends to include Peres should he decide to form a new party ahead of the Israeli general elections, which will most likely be held by the end of March 2006.
 
Meanwhile, Israeli Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz joined on Sunday a list of senior Likud party members who have expressed an interest in running for the Likud leadership should Sharon decide to quit to start a new party, Israeli online daily Haaretz reported.
 
Katz said that there is a “realistic possibility” that Sharon will leave the Likud, and described the step as “dramatic and unprecedented, and as a revolution”.
 
Katz added that he believes that he can unite the Likud, and make it powerful against Sharon’s new party and the Labor party.
 
Sources close to the Israeli Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, said that he would not join a new party headed by Sharon, and that he wants to strengthen his position at the Likud in order to challenge for leadership. 
 
One of Sharon’s associates said that Sharon is delaying his decision to quit the Likud because this move is considered “a dramatic and fateful both from his perspective and from a political perspective”.
 
“If he loses in the Likud to [Benjamin Netanyahu], Peretz can become prime minister by mistake”, the associate said.  
 
Yet, most of senior Likud figures, including ministers, reportedly believe that Sharon is planning to leave the Likud and split it.
 
If general elections are held in Israel in March 2006, Likud primaries will likely take place in February.
 
Also, Mofaz’s advisors believe that he has some clear advantages over Netanyahu in campaigning against the Labor Party, headed by Amir Peretz. 
 
“He is a security-first guy”, the advisors said, “He is also aware of social issues because of his background”
 
Member of Knesset, Uzi Landau, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, may be joining the race for party leadership, in addition to the main rival Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet Israeli analysts believe that Netanyahu is losing popularity within the Likud.
 
Sources close to Shalom said that he is willing to run in the primaries since he has a considerable strength in the Likud Party, “but Mofaz lacks activists to bring voters to the polls”.
 
Moshe Feiglin, chairman of the Jewish Leadership faction at the Likud, is another possible contender.
 
Netanyahu, in spite of his “secrecy” regarding his plans, is believed to be waiting for Sharon to make a move, and consider his next action.
 
It is worth mentioning that the Knesset will most likely vote on Wednesday on dissolving the Knesset, and hold new elections. Sharon and the new Labor party leader, Amir Peretz met last Thursday and agreed that the lections would be held by the end of February, or the beginning of March 2006.
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