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Following Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's departure from the Likud, the entire political system bustled with responses.
Chairman of the Likud Central Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi announced that he would convene the party's central committee on Thursday to determine an agreed-upon date in which the party would vote on its new leader.
He accused the so-called Likud rebels of causing the party's split. "Some took it too far and became addicted to this struggle to a degree that we reached a situation where a rift was created. I never considered leaving the Likud, and it is my home," Hanegbi said.
Rebel leader and one of the candidates for the Likud chairmanship, MK Uzi Landau, estimated that the Likud would come out strengthened. "The Likud is about to embark on a new path, a difficult path. Now that Sharon is leaving us, so too is the corruption. The Likud can now return to its core: the land of Israel, clean politics and social sensitivity."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin explained the prime minister's decision: "Sharon understood that he was going in a direction that the Likud couldn't accept, both politically and in his taking of independent initiatives, and now he's chosen a very risky path."
"There must be elections as soon as possible," Rivlin stressed in an interview with Channel 2 TV.
One of the Likud ministers to join Sharon's new party will be Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, who placed the blame for the split on the party's so-called rebels. "This is not an easy day. I wish this move could have been avoided. However, it appears some of our friends did not want to change their path. Some friends were still living in the pre-disengagement era, as if it never happened," he said.
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, who is planning to compete for the Likud leadership said he thought that splitting the party was a grave mistake. "The Likud must organize and choose a new chairman quickly so that it can stabilize for the voters. I have already announced that I am running if Sharon leaves the Likud," Katz said.
Shinui Chairman and head of the Opposition Yosef Lapid responded by addressing the center of the political map. He accused Sharon of not benefiting the middle class. He specifically stated that the prime minister did nothing to fight religious coercion. Lapid asserted that the true representative of the political center was Shinui, not Sharon.
One of those expected to follow Sharon to his new political party was also Likud MK Majallie Whbee. "As I have accompanied Sharon over the last 12 years I will continue to offer him my hand in any way possible," he pledged, "so that we can, together with all the people who believe in his path, enable Sharon to be elected by a landslide."
On the left side of the political spectrum, Meretz-Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin saw the new political constellation as a victory for those who want to divide the land.
"The split in the Likud creates a real opportunity for a coalition headed by the peace camp along with former Likud MKs who have finally understood that for 38 years they misled the nation and themselves and that the dream of the undivided land is a false one and is dangerous," Beilin said.
Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Labor), said, "There is no doubt that Sharon reached a conclusion by which with the current Likud, he couldn't have moved even one step forward. I hope that the party that would gain most by this would be the Labor party."
Labor lawmaker MK Yuli Tamir expressed her confidence that Sharon's departure from the Likud wouldn't harm Labor's prospects in the upcoming elections.
On the right side of the map, MKs were quick to attack Sharon's new party. According to Chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, MK Avigdor Lieberman, "A new large right wing party must be created in order to defeat Sharon. We must prepare for the possibility that the Likud has been weakened. In such a case, such a party would win 45 mandates and Sharon's party would all but diminish."
MK Effie Eitam (National Union) said the Likud was paying the price for betraying the values of the national camp and turning against the settlers. "The Likud is witnessing his captain abandon ship after he had already damaged its ideological platform and has moved to blow some wind in the left wing's sale."
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