In a Monday evening press conference, Prime Minster Ariel Sharon formally announced that he had left the Likud and had formed a new party called National Responsibility. The name, he qualified, had just been given Monday morning as a temporary, working title for the party.
He said that the Likud could no longer lead Israel to its national goals. Staying within the Likud, he said, was a waste of his time, and he preferred to serve the nation instead of involving himself in political bickering.
"What's happening now is that the life inside this body [Likud] is totally unacceptable. I cannot accept what's going on there. I took this decision last [Sunday] night at 10, but I started to realize [the situation] earlier when I tried to pass the appointments of ministers [Boim and Bar-Om] that things would have to change, that there was no chance to carry on this way" Sharon said.
Simply put, Sharon said, "Sadly, this is the situation."
Responding to the unremitting Hizbullah attack on northern Israel, Sharon said that the assault showed "us how we are living and what we need to pay attention to," implying that political conflicts were of secondary importance to security concerns and a chance for peace.
Sharon said that he founded the Likud in order to give hope to Israel, but that it could not anymore.
"I initiated the establishment of the Likud, by amalgamating five different factions, as soon as I left the IDF. I decided then to create a realistic solution to change the administration."
Once again, Sharon proposed a new political alternative to Israel.
Outlining the line of his new party, Sharon identified two assignments that his party intended to complete - to close in on peace via the Road Map and to improve the day- -to-day lives of Israelis.
He stressed that he would take actions to fight poverty, as opposed making empty statements using symbolic imagery, alluding to his proclamations made by his newfound rival Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz.
Earlier Monday, Sharon sent a letter to Chairman of the Likud Central Committee Tzahi Hangebi formally informing him that he was quitting the party.
That morning, Sharon asked President Moshe Katsav on to dissolve the Knesset, just hours after he sent shockwaves across the political system with his decision to quit the Likud and form a new centrist party.
Katsav told reporters after the meeting, which was held at the President's Residence, that he had not yet consented to the request. "I will consult with the Attorney General [Menahem Mazuz] and with Knesset speaker [Reuven Rivlin]," Katsav said. "We need to act in accordance with the political climate which has been created," Katsav added, indicating he would indeed approve the dissolution of the Knesset.
Asked if he was not interfering with bills already tabled in the matter, Katsav replied, "I have the authority. The Knesset did not yet start to deliberate on this issue."
According to Katsav, "The only consideration regarding the date of early elections is the level of preparedness of the Central Elections Committee, chaired by Justice Dorit Beinish."
After meeting with Katsav, Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post that Katsav had told him that if the Knesset passed in three readings the bill to dissolve the Knesset by Tuesday night, he would consider not interfering with the matter.
In a short statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, Sharon cited article 29 of Basic Law: The Government which calls for parliament to be dispersed if the majority of the Knesset opposes the government, thus making it impossible for the government to function. The dispersal of the Knesset by the president requires new elections within 90 days, unless an MK succeeds in forming a new coalition within the next three weeks.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, meanwhile appealed to Katsav not to consent to Sharon's request to dissolve the Knesset, but rather allow the Knesset to dissolve itself. Rivlin and Katsav will meet on Monday afternoon.
Sharon arrived at the President's residence eight minutes before 9 a.m. on Monday morning, hours after it was made clear that he would quit the Likud and form a new centrist party.
His announcement sent a whirlwind across the political system as nearly all parties stand to be affected by his decision to form a new centrist party. To read responses from political and public figures, click here.
Hanegbi will convene the committee on Thursday to decide on a date for the party primary to elect a replacement for Sharon.
According to a poll commissioned by the Knesset Channel, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was far ahead of his rivals for the post-Sharon Likud leadership, with support of 41 percent of the voters.
Rebel leader Uzi Landau trailed behind with 17%, followed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom with 13%.
Close behind was Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz with 11%, then party activist Moshe Feiglin with 9%, while Education Minister Limor Livnat and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz recieved only a few percentage points each.
In a meeting with Degel Hatorah MKs Sunday, Sharon said that his opponents in the Likud "can't wait to send me back to my ranch to run the farm."
The prime minister also met on Sunday with Shas, National Religious Party, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael MKs. Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael were the only factions that did not agree to the March 28 date. Degel Hatorah MK Moshe Gafni said that the election should be delayed until after Passover.
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.