Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hopes to present a new government to the Knesset within 10 days of today's meeting of the Likud Central Committee.

The convention will vote on whether to approve a new coalition "comprised of Likud, Labor and religious factions," in the words of the resolution drafted by Sharon. If this resolution is approved, negotiations with Labor, United Torah Judaism and Shas are expected to begin on Sunday, after Labor Chairman Shimon Peres convenes his party bureau Saturday night to obtain its formal consent to the talks.

Speaking to reporters in the Knesset yesterday, Sharon said that there have already been "contacts" with Labor, "but not negotiations." He also confirmed that he spoke with Peres by telephone yesterday, "but we did not discuss this issue."

Sources close to Sharon said that the talks with Labor and UTJ are expected to be relatively straightforward, but those with Shas are likely to be more complex. Nevertheless, they believe an agreement can be reached with Shas as well.

Asked by Knesset reporters how long such a government would last, Sharon said: "I am starting from the assumption that a party that wants to join the government is not entering in order to leave immediately."

Sharon spent much of yesterday meeting with, or making phone calls to, Likud convention delegates, urging them to attend the vote and back his resolution. The main fear in Sharon's circle is of a low turnout, which would make it easier for opponents of Labor's entry into the government to win a victory.

In August, the central committee refused to permit Sharon to form a government with Labor, but this time Sharon has backing from several key ministers who opposed him last time.

Moreover, the central committee knows that the only alternative to Labor is new elections, which would probably cost the Likud a significant number of its current Knesset seats. Three months ago, it still appeared possible for the government to survive without Labor.

It is still not clear whether the central committee will also vote on an alternative resolution proposed by two opponents of Sharon's disengagement plan. This resolution would require the committee to meet again to approve the final coalition agreement with Labor.

The Likud's internal court refused yesterday to grant these two delegates permission to put their resolution to a vote. It also rejected their request for a debate on the issue before the voting starts. Currently, no such debate is scheduled.

The two then appealed this decision to the Tel Aviv District Court, and the court will hear their petition at 8 A.M. today. This could delay the convention's scheduled 10 A.M. opening, since the court ruled yesterday that the voting may not begin until it has finished hearing the case. And if the petition is accepted, the vote would be delayed still further.

If there are no legal complications, however, the polling booths are slated to be open from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M., with the results to be announced around midnight.

Assuming that he wins today's vote, Sharon's coalition plans will face their next test on Sunday, when the Labor Central Committee meets to determine a date for that party's leadership primary. Peres has proposed that the decision be deferred until the outcome of the coalition negotiations with Likud is known.

Peres attacked those in his party who were trying to topple him, he said in Ashdod., by bringing forward the date for primaries. He said this group was trying "to organize a putsch and throw me out before the end of my term, which was fixed for November 2005.

If the Labor Central Committee rejects this proposal, it will then decide between two dates: November 2005, the date preferred by Peres and his supporters, or April 2005, which is preferred by Peres' opponents. Should it opt for the latter, Labor is considered unlikely to join the government, because the leadership campaign will require the contenders to portray themselves as alternatives to Sharon, which would be difficult to do while serving in Sharon's government.

But Sharon expressed confidence yesterday that neither party's central committee will block the formation of a unity government. Israel has the opportunity for historic achievements in 2005, he told Knesset reporters, "and I will not allow anyone to prevent the attainment of these achievements."

In an effort to assist Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz convened a gathering of his supporters in the Likud last night to urge them to support a government with Labor. Education Minister Limor Livnat plans to convene a similar gathering of her supporters today.