Ariel Sharon, one of the principal founders of the likud, increasingly frustrated by the rebellion and intense opposition within the party to his altered approach to the Palestinians and the peace process, decided to leave the likud Party and create a new party that he would lead in the Knesset elections and toward a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.
Sharon resigned from the likud on November 12, 2005, to form the Kadima (Forward) Party. The move significantly altered Israel’s political landscape, placing Kadima and the labor Party at the center of the political spectrum, with parties both to the left and the right. Sharon took with him a number of likud ministers and members of the Knesset (MKs), and was joined by some leading labor Party members (including Shimon Peres) and other prominent Israelis.
This political earthquake set in motion changes within the political system with a new “center” under Sharon’s leadership. Sharon said he left likud because he did not want to waste time with political wrangling or miss the opportunities resulting from Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Riding a wave of popularity, Sharon seemed certain to be reelected by a huge margin, with a mandate to continue his policy of withdrawal from the occupied territories.
Amir Peretz, a Moroccan immigrant to Israel and head of the Histadrut (General Federation of labor), defeated Shimon Peres for the leadership of the labor Party in November 2005 by a margin of 2.4 percent. Peretz appealed to Israel’s working class and Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern origin, and he became the first Moroccan-born politician to lead a major Israeli political party.Peretz led labor’s departure from the government and, combined with the formation of Kadima and the turmoil within likud, prepared the way for the next Knesset election.
Sharon suffered a minor stroke on December 18, 2005, but his condition improved rapidly. He remained lucid and in control of the government and was released quickly from the hospital. However, on the night of January 4, 2006, Sharon suffered a major stroke and fell into a coma (in which he remains). unexpectedly, Sharon’s career was over and Israel, as well as the peace process, was in search of new political leadership. When Sharon’s deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over as acting prime minister, a relative unknown replaced a certainty.