The two heavyweights of Israeli right-wing politics, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, are preparing to do battle towards the end of November for the leadership of the Likud party, ahead of general elections scheduled for the end of January 2003. Sharon on 5 November gave up his efforts to form a new coalition following the decision of Labour leader Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to pull out of the national unity government.
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.