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November 09, 2002

Opinion poll says Sharon set for second term

I am a bit dubious about polls but this might be of interest

Ariel Sharon is set for a second term as Israeli prime minister at the head of a strengthened Likud party, according to the first opinion poll taken since his announcement this week of early elections.

With about three months to go until election day, Wednesday's poll in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth showed him six percentage points ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu, his rival for the Likud nomination, with the support of 44 per cent of party members.

The poll indicated Likud would increase its representation in the 120-seat Knesset to 33 from 19 to replace Labour as the single biggest party. Labour was predicted to drop from 26 seats to 19.

The snap poll of 550 people brought little comfort for the leader of the Labour party, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who sparked the crisis by withdrawing from Mr Sharon's broad-based coalition a week ago.

The poll showed him trailing Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa and a newcomer to national politics, by 12 percentage points. Another challenger, Haim Ramon, was a poor third.

Political analysts believe that the Labour party will split if Mr Ben-Eliezer, former defence minister, recovers to win the party's primaries on November 19. They predict the left wing will split off to join other leftwing parties in forming a new social democratic party that may then replace Labour as the second largest grouping in the Knesset.

What promises to be a tough campaign, even by the abrasive standards of Israeli politics, has begun with Mr Netanyahu taking an uncompromising stand towards the Palestinians.

"I promise you one thing," he told Israeli television. "By the end of 2003 there will not be a PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] terror state created here."

Mr Netanyahu was sworn in on Wednesday as foreign minister in the caretaker