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Sharon names new party 'Forward'

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Ariel Sharon says his new party will "lay the foundations for a peace settlement" with the Palestinians.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new political party registered Thursday morning under the name Kadima, Hebrew for "Forward."

The party settled on Kadima after rejecting "National Responsibility" and "Hatikva" -- or Hebrew for "The Hope" -- as possible names, a party official said.

The party announced that former Likud Knesset member Roni Bar-On will chair the party's Knesset faction.

Kadima now numbers 16 members in the 120-member Knesset. The latest to join are ex-Labor Minister Haim Ramon and David Tal, a former member of Shas and One Nation.

The Kadima party, which held its first meeting in Sharon's Tel Aviv office, plans to erect billboards Thursday with the slogans "Israel wants to march forward" and "Sharon, a strong leader for peace."

Israeli President Moshe Katsav and parliament leaders have agreed that elections will be held March 28. (Full story)

Overnight polls showed Tuesday that if the election were held immediately, Sharon's new party would be the election winner.

On Monday, Sharon announced that he was quitting Likud, the right-wing party he helped found in the 1970s, and forming a new centrist party with the goal of moving the Middle East peace process forward based on the U.S.-backed road map for peace.

In announcing his new party, Sharon said he fully embraces the road map and is prepared to make "painful concessions" to achieve peace with the Palestinians, if Israelis elect him to a third term as prime minister.

Sharon asked Katsav on Monday to dissolve parliament, saying he was convinced that a majority of Knesset members backed his plans for achieving peace with the Palestinians.

The refusal by many Likud Knesset members to back Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza forced him to join Labor to get his disengagement plan implemented. Since the Gaza withdrawal in September, so-called Likud "rebels," or opponents to Sharon, have refused to back his nomination of three new cabinet ministers.

Kadima, with no historic debts to either the left or the right, will attempt to move peace negotiations forward with a new approach, Sharon's advisers have indicated.

Political observers have said that Sharon's move is nothing less than an earthquake shaking the foundations of Israeli politics. (Full story)

For years, Labor and Likud have been the leading parties in Israel, with Labor on the left and Likud, backed by settlers and Orthodox Jewish parties, on the right.

However, with relations with the Palestinians apparently going nowhere, a majority of Israelis backed Sharon but told pollsters they were increasingly disenchanted with both Labor and Likud.

Among those disenchanted voters are more than 1 million Russian Jews who have immigrated to Israel in the past few years. Conservative, they have voted with Sharon but dislike the Orthodox and settlers, who they feel get too many undeserved government benefits. Because the Russian Jews have just fled socialism in Russia, they are not comfortable with Labor, especially Labor's new leader, Amir Peretz.

Peretz, a self-described socialist known for his fiery rhetoric and class-warfare style, has promised to take Labor back to its socialist roots.

Sharon's new Kadima Party aims to attract those voters in the middle, while Peretz moves Labor to the left.

As many as six Likud members, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fight it out for control of Likud and will likely strengthen its ties to the right.

Sharon adviser Eyal Arad told Britain's Guardian newspaper this week that "land for peace" had been a failure, and Sharon would now offer the Palestinians "independence based on security."

Arad told the paper that Sharon has decided to abandon the "land for peace" formula on which the 1992 Oslo accords with the Palestinians were based.

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