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Analysts Question Stability of Israeli Coalition - 2001-10-16

Recent defections from the government of Ariel Sharon are raising concerns that it might collapse.

For the first time since Mr. Sharon came to power seven months ago, political analysts in Israel have begun speculating about the possible collapse of the prime minister's government.

Seven members of the right-wing National Union faction are set to leave the government on Wednesday. All of them are leaving for the same reason. They accuse Mr. Sharon of succumbing to U.S. pressure to take a softer line toward the Palestinians.

Benny Elon, a National Union party member in the parliament, says that other factions may follow suit because of efforts by Mr. Sharon and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon has reacted strongly to the defections. Speaking in parliament on Monday, the prime minister told members of his coalition that the right-wing has in the past acted against its own political interests. He reminded them that two right-wing leaders - Yitzhak Shamir in 1991 and Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999 - were brought down by members of their own parties or those allied with them. And he went on to add that in each case the right-wing governments were replaced by governments that were far more accommodating to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Though Mr. Sharon is expected to keep on fighting, there are those who say the defections have caused him to reassess his political future. Israeli political commentator Yossi Venter, writing in the Hebrew daily newspaper Ha'aretz, says the prime minister now fears he may not survive until general elections fall due in 2003.