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Israel's Sharon Takes Big Lead in Polls


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken another leap in the polls, as Israel heads to early elections in the spring. The Israeli right wing is in disarray.

The latest poll shows Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crushing his opponents in early elections set for March 28. The poll has Mr. Sharon's new centrist party winning 39 seats in the 120-member parliament, an increase of four spots from the previous survey.

The prime minister has been soaring in popularity since he quit the ruling Likud party two weeks ago. Likud rebels who opposed Mr. Sharon's "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip were making it impossible for him to govern by voting against his policies in parliament. So he left and formed a moderate party called Kadima, meaning "forward," which supports ceding some West Bank territory to the Palestinians.

Since the Prime Minister's departure, Likud, which opposes territorial concessions, has collapsed. The poll shows that the Likud would win just 13 parliamentary seats, down from its current 40. The Israeli national camp is now so weak that the three right-wing parties are discussing a merger.

Uri Bank, an activist in the National Union party, believes the right has failed in its mission to preserve all the Biblical Land of Israel for the Jewish people.

"The right wing wasn't able to win in parliament and beat Sharon at his own game because we've always been splintered off into small, little factions," he said.

But Mr. Bank says it's not too late to save what is left.

"We've decided that the right wing has to unify itself," he said. "We have to have total unity and a voting bloc that will be able to block any future disengagements or giving away parts of Israel."

But that's easier said than done. The polls indicate that Ariel Sharon will be able to form a stable centrist government that supports further Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank. Mr. Sharon, who is nicknamed, the "bulldozer," will be hard to stop. As one Israeli newspaper headline put it: "Sharon is skyrocketing."

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