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Schneider: Sharon 'wants a broad-based coalition'

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider
CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider

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(CNN) -- Exit polls project a strong win for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud party in elections Tuesday, raising questions about what kind of government Sharon will try to form.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider talked to chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday about the future of the government.

AMANPOUR: An Israeli newspaper recently dubbed these Israel's "curious" elections. ... Curious indeed, Bill. And what is most on people's minds is what's going to happen tomorrow. What kind of a government is Israel going to see?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we don't know if it's going to be a broad-based government of national unity. That is clearly what Ariel Sharon wants.

But this election is important because the kind of government that Israel is electing today will determine the prospects for peace. Now, how can we be talking about peace? The Labor Party ... really ran on the Oslo peace process, and this election could confirm that Oslo is dead.

That is where the war with Iraq could come in, because if ... Saddam Hussein is overthrown, it will open up new prospects for peace, and Sharon wants to be the man who negotiates that deal. He wants a broad-based coalition. He does not want to depend on a narrow base of right-wing parties because he wants maximum flexibility. Notice what we're saying here, something quite remarkable: Ariel Sharon as a moderate.

AMANPOUR: And if he is unable to pursue that, and if he has to go into a coalition with right-wing religious parties and form a narrow government, what kind of pressure would that put on him, vis-a-vis his relations with the United States, with the rest of the world, particularly at this time?

SCHNEIDER: It will be very difficult for him because he will have no flexibility. He will have a very small coalition. It's unlikely to last very long, and he will have no flexibility to make the deal [on a framework for peace] that President Bush proposed in June of 2002, a deal that involves [establishing] a Palestinian state [by the end of 2003].

Every time President Bush talks about a new peace initiative, he talks about a Palestinian state. And Sharon has indicated a willingness to at least consider the possibility of a Palestinian state.

AMANPOUR: And some of these potential coalition-makers would not consider that. [The] Bush administration's worst nightmare, surely, ... as it contemplates further action in the Arab-Islamic world, is to have a government [here] that could further inflame feelings?

SCHNEIDER: That's right, and that's exactly what a narrow, right-wing government would do. And so, oddly, Sharon is trying to create a government of national unity. In his victory statement tonight, he has indicated, he will reach out to the Labor Party. Oddly, what's happening is the Labor Party doesn't want to go into that government of national unity, and the Shinui Party, another [potential] coalition partner, says it won't go into a government unless it's a government of national unity. So [Sharon's] options are very limited.

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