Israeli premier's narrow defeat of party revolt highlights transformation

Ariel Sharon’s narrow victory in a battle for leadership of the Likud party highlights the Israeli prime minister’s remarkable transformation from right-wing hawk to centrist.

The former general, who participated in every one of Israel’s wars since the creation of the Jewish State in 1948, received 51 percent of an intra-party ballot held Monday night while former premier Benjamin Netanyahu achieved 47 percent, thus averting early national elections.

The vote was the culmination of a policy which stunned opponents and supporters alike — his plan, realized last month, to remove Israeli settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip and give it to the Palestinians as a way to “disengage” from conflict.

But while his stand is popular with many Israelis, particularly those aligned with the coalition Labor party, it cost Sharon the support of many Likud loyalists who were angered at what they saw as a betrayal of a biblical birthright by the very man that was once their biggest booster, MSNBC reports.

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