TEL AVIV -- Fresh from a painful parliamentary defeat, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel said yesterday he will turn to his old rivals in the Labor Party to save his shattered coalition and get the support he needs to leave the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to Israeli newspaper and broadcast editors, Sharon also extended something of an olive branch to the Palestinians, saying Israel will not launch offensives in their territory if the situation remains calm.
As Sharon's government hung in the balance, Palestinians were playing out their own political drama.
The presidential candidacy of interim leader Mahmoud Abbas took a hit when Marwan Barghouthi an uprising leader jailed by Israel, entered the race for Jan. 9 elections to replace Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority president.
Barghouthi, who has folk hero status in the West Bank, was criticized by fellow Palestinian leaders for jeopardizing the unity of the Fatah party and hurting prospects for a smooth transition of power after Arafat's death Nov. 11.
Hopes for an uncomplicated transition suffered another blow when the militant group Islamic Jihad announced yesterday that it would boycott the vote, joining the larger of the two violent Islamic groups, Hamas, which on Wednesday called on its members to stay away from the polls.
Also Wednesday, Sharon dismissed one of his key coalition partners, the secular-rights Shinui party, after it voted against his 2005 budget. That left Sharon, whose government was already close to collapsing because of hard-line opposition to his Gaza withdrawal, with only 40 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
If Sharon cannot patch together a new coalition, he would be forced to call early elections, an outcome that could stall his plans to withdraw all Israeli troops and civilians from Gaza next year.
Speaking to the Israeli journalists, Sharon said he would seek to bring Labor and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties into his government.
Labor is seen as likely to agree to join in salvaging the Gaza pullout. However, many Labor stalwarts oppose linking up with Sharon, their traditional political rival. Sharon said nothing will stop him from carrying out the withdrawal.