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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 20:03 GMT
Sharon's party: What's in a name?
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Six cabinet ministers have already joined Ariel Sharon's new party

Considering its creation represented the biggest change in Israeli politics for years, "National Responsibility" - the initial name of the new political party created by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - was particularly uninspiring.

By the time the party was officially registered, it had been dropped in favour of a new one: Kadima in Hebrew, meaning Forward in English.

As a name it is simple, dynamic, and - crucially - rather centrist-sounding. After all, if you are going forward, you are not going left or right.

It certainly matches what Ariel Sharon, so long the strongman of the Israeli right, says he is trying to do - create a new force in the middle ground of Israeli politics that he hopes will take votes from the two big established parties, Likud and Labour.

Reviving the "road map"

And not just votes, but members as well. So far 14 Likud members have defected to Kadima, five of them cabinet ministers.

From Labour, Mr Sharon has recruited Haim Ramon, another minister.

Palestinian students push an Israeli barrier in the West Bank city of Hebron to protest against a new checkpoint blocking their way to school
Sharon has pledged to revive the US-brokered "road map" peace plan

There is a belief among many that where Mr Sharon goes, the voters will follow.

And with parliamentary elections scheduled for March, there is no time to waste, especially for Likud, which has to find a replacement leader to beat him.

As far as policies are concerned, Mr Sharon says his party's platform is the US-backed "road map" for peace.

Launched almost three years ago, it called for the creation of a Palestinian state, an end to violence by militant groups and a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

It has not got beyond the initial stages, and the two most significant developments since then - the construction of a barrier around and into the West Bank and the withdrawal of Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza - were unilateral actions outside the road map.

Election race

Some argue that Kadima might as well be called Sharon; that the new party is about nothing more than the prime minister.

His decision to disengage from Gaza alienated him from a large part of Likud, at the same time as Likud's old rival Labour was electing a new leader - Amir Peretz - espousing policies of social reform.

Now he is free to take on both parties.

The period between now and elections on March 28 promises to see some bitter political squabbles.

Not only between Ariel Sharon and the Likud faithful disappointed with him twice over - first for Israel's pullout from Gaza and then for Mr Sharon's pullout from Likud - but also within Likud itself.

In comparison, the current leadership battle for Britain's Conservative Party, for example, looks like a stroll in the park.


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