TEL AVIV, Israel – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon survived a major challenge to his leadership in the party he helped found, narrowly claiming victory Monday in a vote widely seen as a referendum on his rule and the recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The victory capped a dramatic comeback for Sharon, who has been vilified by Likud Party hard-liners for the Gaza pullout and who had been trailing in recent opinion polls. Sharon’s supporters said the victory meant the prime minister would push forward with his peace efforts.
Monday’s vote by the Likud central committee was ostensibly over a procedural issue: whether to hold elections for party leader in April, as scheduled, or move up the primary to November. But Sharon and his rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the ballot amounted to a vote of confidence in the prime minister.