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BIBI IS BACK

New Likud Leader Netanyahu Now Expected To Pull Likud Ministers Out Of Sharon Cabinet

Latest Polls Indicate Kadima's Lead Has Not Been Affected By Sharon's Mild Stroke

Prime Minister Expected To Chair Cabinet Session On Sunday After His release From Hospital

Bibi Netanyahu

The Likud party has elected former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as new party leader. Netanyahu has pledged to join forces with runner up Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and wrest the country's leadership from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But his Likud party is plagued with many serious problems. Initial polls show that the mild stroke has not harmed Sharon's lead in the election campaign. This is due to the doctors' diagnosis that the Prime Minister did not suffer any permanent damage and can return to a full workload after resting a few days at home.

New Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has won the Likud leadership race but his troubles are just beginning. Netanyahu faces an uphill battle in getting the Likud back in the election race against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Kadima and Labor's Amir Peretz.With nearly all the Likud ballots tallied, Netanyahu won 44% with 33% for runner-up Silvan Shalom. In his victory speech, Netanyahu declared: 'Tonight, the Likud begins its way back to the leadership of Israel'.But the latest polls conducted after Sharon's mild stroke, indicate that the PM's Kadima party is maintaining its wide lead with the Likud is trailing far behind. Kadima has 39, Labor 21 while the Likud takes only 13.

Netanyahu's Game Plan: Now in the driver's seat, Netanyahu is now expected to check out a gambit to outflank Ariel Sharon. The idea is for the opposition parties to join forces, topple the Sharon government, call off the early election on March 28th and form an alternate cabinet to rule until the scheduled ballot next fall. However, this depends on Labor's cooperation and party leader Amir Peretz says 'no way', he wants the early election.Netanyahu is now expected to try and make good on his previous pledge to pull four Likud cabinet ministers out of Sharon's caretaker government. However, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his three Likud colleagues may not be ready to give up their cabinet jobs. A big surprise in the Likud race was hardliner Moshe Feiglin who took up to 15% of the vote. Feiglin took second place among Likudniks in Jerusalem and his strong showing has exposed the Likud to charges that it has become a 'not an inch' dogmatic party.

Freudian Slip: Reacting to Sharon's mild stroke, Netanyahu expressed his 'condolences' to the Prime Minister. The Likud leader later corrected what was viewed as a Freudian slip declaring the entire country hopes that Sharon will make a full and speedy recovery. .

Ariel Sharon: After being sent home from hospital, the Prime Minister is expected to chair the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. He has been ordered to take it easy for a few days before returning to a full workload. In addition, Sharon is taking medication to prevent any new blood clots and has been instructed to lose some of his considerable weight.

David Essing

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