JERUSALEM (AP) – Hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu will announce next week that he intends to run against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in primary elections for the ruling Likud Party, a close supporter said Friday.
Netanyahu, a former prime minister, would beat Sharon in Likud primaries, 42 percent to 35 percent, according to a poll published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
But Sharon remains more popular with the general public, according to the poll. In national elections, Sharon aligned with a new, centrist party, would beat Netanyahu 24 percent to 16 percent, the daily said.
Netanyahu will formally announce his candidacy next week, Michael Ratzon, a Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu supporter, told Army Radio.
Netanyahu resigned as finance minister earlier this month to protest Sharon”s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
He has been widely expected to challenge Sharon for the party leadership since stepping down.
Many voters in Likud, the traditional supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, remain furious at Sharon, despite the quick and quiet Gaza withdrawal. Netanyahu”s popularity in the party has raised speculation that Sharon will leave the hawkish party and form a moderate movement with other veteran politicians.
Several Sharon advisers back such a move, Israeli media have reported. The Yediot poll showed that Sharon would bring almost one-third of Likud members with him.
Sharon advisers have told media that he could choose to establish a party with centrist politicians Shimon Peres and Joseph Lapid. But Peres said this week that he had no plans to leave the Labor Party, which he heads.
National elections are scheduled for October 2006, but are likely to be held earlier if Sharon is unable to keep his fragmented parliamentary coalition intact.
The Yediot poll questioned 501 people. It did not give a margin of error.