IN OTHER WORDS: The centrist

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon offered up several tantalising morsels to explain his decision to dump the Likud Party. He said he wants to “lay the foundation” toward “the permanent borders of the state.” That, of course, hints that he is willing to engage in the territorial compromise necessary for ach-ieving peace with the Palestinians, something m-embers of the right wing Likud can’t get their heads around. He said he has “no intention of allowing anyone to miss” the “historic opportunity” brought by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last summer. Yet another hint.

In the 1950’s, he led the commandos who were so quick and deadly at reprisals. In 1973, he led the crossing of the Suez Canal that helped end the Yom Kippur War. In 1982, he led Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. In 2000, he detonated the Palestinian intifada. Yet in 2005, Sharon did what no other Israeli leader has ever done: in withdrawing from the land Israel seized 38 years ago.

The coming elections will bring many issues into relief. Polls say Sharon has popular good will in Israel today, and without the baggage of Likud he certainly has the credibility to push Israel in the direction it needs to go. Whether he chooses to do so remains to be seen. But one thing is clear. He couldn’t lead Israel toward its national goals as long as he em-bodied Likud.