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Netanyahu Survives First Test Of Strength

Tue., Jan. 6, 1998, midnight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won parliamentary approval for his 1998 budget Monday, surviving the first test of his strength since losing a foreign minister who also was his Cabinet’s strongest peace advocate.

The prime minister broke into a smile after the favorable vote for his $59 billion spending plan, observing later to Army Radio, “I’ve been eulogized at least 18 times in the past 18 months and you see I’m still here. We passed the budget and we’re on our way.”

But Netanyahu still faces a no-confidence vote next week, after several allies called for early elections following Sunday’s resignation of Foreign Minister David Levy.

Without Levy’s Gesher faction, Netanyahu’s coalition holds only 61 out of the 120 seats in parliament.

Several coalition legislators have been angered by Netanyahu’s policies and abrasive leadership style and for months have been waiting openly for a chance to bring him down.

The coalition is also vulnerable because it is divided on a promised West Bank troop pullback at a time when Netanyahu is under pressure to carry it out. Either path - carrying out the pullback or trying to delay it - would likely cause more defections.

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