Political Crisis in Israel

Israeli politicians are gearing up for a new election season, now that the Labor Party has abandoned its coalition with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party. Labor Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres resigned from the Cabinet on Oct. 30 in a dispute over Israel's 2003 budget.

Sharon will now scramble to form a narrow coalition with the ultra-right National Union. But that coalition would have a majority of only a few seats in Israel's Knesset and could face a vote of no confidence as soon as Nov. 4. That's why analysts expect Sharon will have to call a new election, which could take place early next year. The vote is currently scheduled to be held in November, 2003.

Both Labor and Likud must vote on their party leaderships before they can contest a national election. Labor Party leader Ben-Eliezer is facing a challenge from Amram Mitzna, the popular Mayor of Haifa and a former general, as well as from Haim Ramon, a maverick Knesset member and former minister in previous Labor-led governments. Ben-Eliezer is trailing behind his rivals in the race, which will be decided on Nov. 17. Meanwhile, in the Likud Party, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a credible chance of winning his leadership contest with Sharon, analysts say. Although Israeli voters are exhausted from two years of violence with the Palestinians and the country's worst-ever recession, recent polls show the electorate would likely return a Likud-led government to power.

By Neal Sandler in Jerusalem

Edited by Rose Brady

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