Sharon and Peretz: All together now

Sharon's breakaway party will enable supporters of the new consensus to vote its principles without having to cross over to the Left.

Israel's political big bang rectifies an old flaw in our system. For the last decade an impressive majority has emerged in support of the two-state solution and against the settlements policy. This new consensus has not been built upon an unwarranted belief in the good intentions of the Palestinians - on the contrary, the credit given to the Palestinian leadership has justly been diminishing. Rather, it is based on fears of an Arab majority inside Israel, the feeling of "no choice" and because of Israel's international isolation. Many Israelis, in short, have began to realize that the continued occupation, in addition to the settlements, constitute a moral and political liability to Israel. In the ordinary order of things this shift in public opinion should have resulted in more people voting for the left-of-center parties - Labor and Meretz. The Left, however by espousing the radical chic ideas of the chattering classes, could not benefit from this new mood. On the contrary; while public opinion veered toward its ideas, the Left lost half of its representation in the Knesset. PRIME MINISTER Ariel Sharon's leaving the Likud will enable supporters of this new consensus - and, as recent public opinion polls show, we are talking about hundreds of thousands - to vote its principles without having to cross over to the Left. What happened in the last elections in the form of a surge of votes for Shinui is now going to happen, on a much larger scale, with regard to Sharon's Kadima list. If anything, the election of Amir Peretz to head Labor, which may lessen the rejection of the Left by Sephardim, could serve to obscure the full magnitude of this political realignment, which would have been even larger. Indeed, if recent polls reflect the future composition of the Knesset, this bang ushers in a new period in Israeli politics - the end of the power of the settlers' lobby. Needless to say, terror attacks or shelling - especially from Gaza - may reverse this trend. As we have learned from bitter experience in the past, you can trust Palestinian terrorists to act in time, just before the elections, in order to hurt Israeli moderates. YET THE next Knesset, if polls are to be believed, may again result in a political stalemate or, worse, a government ruled, as it was between 1977 and 2002, with the religious-rightist parties controlling the critical balance of power. There is only one way to prevent this deja-vu disaster: to form a coalition between Sharon and Peretz, Kadima and Labor, and to require the two leaders to express their consent to such an alliance, in which the larger party - just as in Germany - will assume the premiership. Such a coalition could concentrate on the existential issues which face Israel, such as: • responding to the Iranian nuclear threat through a defense pact with the US, or within Nato; • ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank on the basis of border adjustments and without territorial gain to each side; • ending the Orthodox monopoly, which is not only incompatible with our democracy but also reduces the number and power of Jews in their homeland; • creating an economic regime that encourages growth but succeeds in reducing economic gaps through continuing educational reform. In my view, the great majority of Israelis yearn for such a government. It is tantalizingly within sight. The writer, founder of the Shinui movement and a former education minister, is dean of the Radzyner School of Law at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.