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Hard-Liner Netanyahu Wins Leadership of Israel's Likud Party


Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won the race for leadership of Israel's ruling Likud party. The victory sets up the campaign for national elections in March.

Mr. Netanyahu won the Likud leadership a month after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quit the party. Mr. Sharon said then he was fed up with Likud rebels, including Mr. Netanyahu, who opposed his pullout from the Gaza Strip. So the Prime Minister formed a moderate centrist party that is prepared to give up parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu is a hawk who opposes those concessions. He charges that Mr. Sharon is even prepared to hand over parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. "If somebody is going to divide Jerusalem, we will not be their partner," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu quit the Sharon government in August in protest over the Gaza pullout, saying it was a reward for Palestinian terror. He says if he's elected Prime Minister in elections on March 28, Israel will tread much more carefully. "I think that if I win, then you can be sure that the policies of security, of demanding reciprocity and very careful agreements with our neighbors demanding them to do things, these things that I stood for and implemented as prime minister will happen again," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu defeated Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who took a more moderate approach. "I think that I represent the attitude of most of the Likud voters that believe in peace with security, that are not so extreme," he said.

So now, Benjamin Netanyahu faces off with his old rival Ariel Sharon in the race for prime minister. Mr. Sharon has enjoyed a huge lead in the polls, but that was before he suffered a minor stroke on Sunday. The Prime Minister fully recovered but suddenly age is a factor. Mr. Sharon is 77 and Mr. Netanyahu is just 56. So while polls show that Israelis prefer the elder statesman, his age and health are cause for concern.

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