Poll: Sharon's Lead Over Rival Netanyahu Is Growing

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is holding on to a clear lead over his main rival in the Likud chairmanship race, MK Benjamin Netanyahu: The gap between the two now stands at 19 percent, compared to 14 percent six weeks ago.

Sharon is expected to soon decide whether he will remain in the Likud or quit his party and establish a new one. His lead over Netanyahu is expected to help him decide to remain in the Likud and compete once more against the former finance minister.

In the last few days, Sharon has shown a "tendency to remain" in the Likud, sources close to the prime minister say. They predict he will stay only if he is sure of a victory over Netanyahu. Other sources in the Likud, however, say Sharon has already decided in principle not to leave the Likud, but he is still waiting for the right time to announce this publicly.

A Haaretz-Dialog poll conducted last night under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs found that if the Likud primaries were held today, and the candidates were Sharon, Netanyahu, Uzi Landau (who led the anti-disengagement Likud "rebels") and Moshe Feiglin (leader of the right-wing Jewish Leadership faction of the Likud party), Sharon would get 47 percent of the votes, Netanyahu would get 23 percent, Landau would get 9 percent and Feiglin would get 6 percent. The poll had 614 respondents and a 4.3 percent margin of error.

If Sharon and Netanyahu were to go for a second round, Sharon would defeat Netanyahu by 51 percent to 32 percent, the poll found.

Nonetheless, some in the Sharon camp say the result of the Labor Party primaries will deter Sharon from going up against Netanyahu, despite the large gap between them. That's because the polls on the eve of the Labor primaries predicted that Shimon Peres would beat Amir Peretz by some 15 percent of the votes. But Peretz's well-oiled organization, when set against the utter inefficiency in the Peres camp, demolished the expected gap, leading Peretz to victory.

The clear tendency of voters to choose Sharon was expressed in an additional question asked in the survey: Who do you think brings more seats to the Likud, Sharon or Netanyahu? A decisive 64 percent said Sharon would win the party more seats, and only 21 percent chose Netanyahu. Even among those who voted for Netanyahu in the 2002 primaries, 42 percent said Sharon would bring more seats and 41 percent said Netanyahu would.

This poll also shows Landau's increasing weakness within the party. A Haaretz-Dialog poll held September 27 showed Landau winning 16 percent of Likud votes in a four-man race, and beating Netanyahu by 7 percent in a two-man race. This does not compare favorably with Landau's third-place standing in last night's poll.