Weekend polls indicated Sharon, Israel’s most popular politician, could marshal enough support to return to the prime minister’s office for a third term at the head of a moderate coalition. Sharon said he turned his back on former Likud allies who opposed his Gaza withdrawal because life within the party had become “insufferable.” Four small settlements in the northern West Bank were also evacuated along with Gaza, and Sharon said, as he has in the past, that additional West Bank settlements would be dismantled under a final peace deal. But he reiterated that Israel would hold on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank where most of Israel’s 235,000 settlers live, and demanded that Palestinians disarm militant groups. Sharon set dramatic events in motion late Sunday with his decision to leave the party he co-founded more than 30 years ago with dreams of hanging onto the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem – lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for a state. His decision to pull Israel out of Gaza touched off a bitter rebellion by former Likud allies. They failed to block the pullout, which enjoyed widespread support in Israel, but seeking revenge for Sharon’s perceived treachery, continued going head-to-head with him in parliament. On Monday, Sharon went to President Moshe Katsav to ask him to dissolve parliament, the Knesset, and move up elections to early March from their scheduled November date. Katsav has yet to declare whether he would disband the legislature or let parliament dissolve itself – an option some lawmakers favor because that could buy them more time to campaign. While awaiting his decision, the Knesset voted Monday to disband, but needs to vote three more times to clear the way for early elections. Although Sharon has thrown off the constraints of Likud, peacemaking in the short term will be put on hold by Israel’s elections and Jan. 25 balloting for the Palestinian parliament. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals The Gaza pullout created a “historic opportunity,” Sharon told a televised news conference. “I will not allow anyone to squander it.” Palestinians said the developments created new prospects for peacemaking, which ground to a halt during five years of violence. “I believe this is an eruption of an Israeli political volcano, and I hope that when the dust settles, we will have a partner in Israel to go toward … a final arrangement,” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Sharon ruled out unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, however. He said he remains committed to the internationally backed “road map” plan, which calls for a negotiated peace deal culminating in a Palestinian state. “There is no additional disengagement plan,” he said, referring to the Gaza withdrawal. “There is the road map.” JERUSALEM – Once Israel’s premier hawk, Ariel Sharon has undergone a startling transformation over the past two years. He pulled Israel out of the Gaza Strip this summer and uprooted Jewish settlements he once backed, fighting off challenges from within his own Likud Party. Sharon’s final break with the hard-liners came on Monday: The 77-year-old premier announced he would quit Likud and form a new centrist party so he would be free to pursue new peace efforts with the Palestinians. In so doing, he became the first sitting prime minister in Israeli history to break away from his party. The move electrified Israeli politics and sets the stage for likely March elections.