In the past few weeks, Israel has witnessed enormous political change and a realignment of its major political parties.  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the conservative Likud Party to form Kadima, a new centrist party.  And a Sephardic Jew from Morocco, Amir Peretz, defeated veteran politician Shimon Peres for the leadership of the center left Labor Party.   He then pulled out of Israel?s governing coalition, which prompted a call for early elections, now scheduled for March 28.   And in recent days, Mr. Peres left the Labor Party to declare his support for Prime Minister Sharon?s new centrist faction.

Daniel Ayalon, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, called Mr. Sharon?s decision to leave the party that he created almost 30 years ago ?bold and courageous.?   Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now?s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Ayalon described the Prime Minister?s decision as a consequence of the refusal of renegade members of the Knesset within his own Likud Party to follow his leadership over the decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip and to ?espouse and commit to the roadmap? to peace with the Palestinians.  The Ambassador says Ariel Sharon, a military man who participated in all of Israel?s wars, would like to be ?the man who brought about peace? to his nation and to the entire region. 

But, according to Ambassador Ayalon, that would require a Palestinian partner who is credible and able to craft his own policies.   Although he believes Prime Minister Sharon would be willing to negotiate the borders of a future Palestinian state, the Ambassador said that Jerusalem and some West Bank settlements should be ?permanently included within Israel?s sovereignty.?   He noted that throughout history there has never been a Palestinian ?state.?  Ambassador Ayalon went on to say that ironically, it is Israel that will be responsible for creating a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. 

Ambassador Ayalon pointed out that according to recent polls, if the Israeli election were to be held today, Mr. Sharon?s new centrist party would garner the most votes, followed by Labor and Likud.  He described both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Peres as ?founding fathers? of the Israeli state.  And he called Ariel Sharon a ?real patriot? whose decision to leave Likud was based on very deep convictions about ?what is right for posterity? and for the people of the region.  

Ambassador Ayalon said that Israel expects that the Palestinians will not only consolidate politically after their elections in late January but that they will also consolidate their security apparatuses and fight terror in an effective way.   Although Israel considers Hamas, which plans to field candidates in the January elections, a dangerous terrorist organization, he said Israel would not interfere in those elections.  However, if the Palestinians vote for Hamas, Ambassador Ayalon believes it would signal the end of any peace prospects. 

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.