Poll: Deep rift has opened between Sharon and Likud
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's detractors and rivals will look at today's newspaper headlines that festively herald the end of the Jewish settlement enterprise in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank with some degree of solace in their hearts and minds - the belief that Sharon, the man who brought about this calamity and shattered their dreams is rapidly approaching his final days in the Prime Minister's Office.
It is not fact; it is only a belief and a hope - and also the concern of many in the political establishment who believe that if Sharon is not reelected Likud chairman, he will not be reelected prime minister.
Facing them, there are those who are convinced that every end is merely a beginning, and that Sharon will again show his skill at turning failure into success, a disadvantage into an advantage, and will return for a third term in office, with or without the Likud.
A Haaretz-Dialog poll, conducted under the supervision of Camil Fuchs among Likud members over the past two days, again illustrates the deep rift that has opened up between Sharon and his voters.
Sharon's situation is bad - very bad: Not only does Benjamin Netanyahu defeat him in a second round of voting, Uzi Landau, the ousted leader of the Likud rebels, beats him too.
The findings of the poll indicate that in a face-off between Sharon and Netanyahu, the latter gains the upper hand - 47 percent versus 30.5 percent. Sharon versus Landau produces a 45 percent to 37 percent result in the latter's favor.
In a three-way race, Netanyahu wins the support of 26 percent of the Likud members; Landau gets the thumbs up from 24 percent; and Sharon remains around the 30 percent mark.
This appears to be an exact reflection of the support for the disengagement plan among the Likud members, who select the party chairman. Sharon has the support of around one-third of them - and no more.
So how can he turn the tables?
His people believe that if opposition to the pullout falls off, so will opposition to Sharon. In other words, if the coming months bring a new Switzerland, devoid of terror, flourishing and prosperous and enjoying the support of the entire world, the desire for vengeance on Sharon will fade and bring about a change in the balance of power in the Likud.
The survey shows that for the moment at least, Netanyahu and Landau know what they are doing: They are riding the wave of opposition to the pullout and escalating their attacks on Sharon.
For their part, Sharon's people are trying to delay the end in the hope that the end will be better. Yesterday, they successfully postponed the convention of the Likud Central Committee, which looked set to vote no-confidence in Sharon and decide on early primaries.
Sharon is playing for time, and the belief is that time is on his side.
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