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Sharon Wins Crucial Likud Party Vote, Avoids Early Primary


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has fended off a revolt in his own party, winning a key vote of confidence.It was a close call.

Prime Minister Sharon narrowly won a crucial vote in his Likud party, fending off a challenge from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu hoped to oust Mr. Sharon because he defied Likud ideology by dismantling 21 Gaza settlements. The vote in the hawkish 3,000 member Likud Central Committee was close.

A Likud official announced that by a margin of just 104 votes, the Central Committee rejected Mr. Netanyahu's bid to advance elections for the party leadership to this November-five months ahead of schedule. Now, Mr. Sharon will remain at the helm of the Likud until April. Mr. Netanyahu graciously accepted defeat.

"I accept the democratic decision of the Likud," Mr. Netanyahu said. But he vowed to win when party elections do take place next April.

The victory is a coup for Mr. Sharon, who has proven time and again that he is a political survivor. He outmaneuvered his hawkish opponents and evacuated Jewish settlers from Gaza. And even though he went against the wishes of his own party, he managed to get a vote of confidence. One reason is that Likud members feared a split that would topple the party from power.

Now, Mr. Sharon has a firm grip on power until April of next year, and far as policy, he's calling the shots.