TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Over the past two years, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has emerged as the ultimate political survivor, fending off repeated attempts by hard-liners within his party to punish him for his withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The former general dodged the latest challenge to his leadership of the Likud Party on Monday, narrowly winning a ballot that was widely seen as a referendum on his rule and the recently completed withdrawal.

“The argument over whether or not Sharon’s vision was the Likud’s vision is over with this vote,” Roni Bar-On, a pro-Sharon lawmaker, told Israel Radio.

But dissidents within the Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu said Sharon still had something to prove.

Uzi Landau, a prominent opponent of Sharon, said it was now up to the prime minister to unify the party he helped found. “If he wants, it will be unified. If he continues his past practices, it will not.”


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