Sharon is ahead of Netanyahu according to the most recent polls, and Likud is well ahead of Labour. Sharon is said to be keen to get the party primaries over as soon as possible so as to cash in on his poll advantage.

Netanyahu, who has agreed to serve as Foreign Affairs Minister in an interim administration, has made clear that he favours an even tougher line on the Palestinian question than that pursued by Sharon.

On the Labour side, Ben-Eliezer faces a strong challenge for the party leadership from Amram Mitzna, the doveish mayor of Haifa.