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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Israeli Elections

Aired November 5, 2002 - 12:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In a dramatic and surprising new development, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, dissolved Parliament and called for early elections after he failed to restore his Parliamentary majority.
CNN's Ben Wedeman has been following this important story. He's joining us now live from Jerusalem with the latest -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, those early elections now scheduled tentatively for the 28th of January, 2003.

Now, tomorrow, the Knesset will be officially dissolved. The caretaker -- rather, the coalition government that joined Likud and Labor for almost two years, is now officially dead.

Now, today, it was announced that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the post of foreign minister. He had conditioned his acceptance of that position upon the holding of early elections, and he got what he asked for.

Now, Netanyahu's appointment could make the coming months rather interesting. He is the top rival for the leadership of the Likud Party to the prime minister, Mr. Sharon. Nonetheless, in his new position, he will be compelled to basically become an advocate of the policies of Mr. Sharon's government, as well as its foreign policy.

So, when it comes time for a leadership showdown within the Likud in the weeks before the 28 January election, it could be very interesting. And Mr. Netanyahu may have been outmaneuvered by Sharon in this one.

Now, equally significant in this current caretaker cabinet are the inclusion of Mr. Netanyahu and former Israeli Army Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz. Both of these men have traditionally taken a very hard- line on the Palestinian question. Both of them have advocated in the past the expulsion of Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. And Mr. Netanyahu has called for the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority.

So, on the Palestinian side this evening, a good deal of jittery nerves as they watch what has been the formation of probably the most hard-line Israeli government in many years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben, if you say that Netanyahu has been outmaneuvered by Sharon, everyone assumes that Netanyahu is going to challenge Sharon for the Likud Party leadership. By being in the government, his hands are effectively tied to a certain degree, and can't get all that raucous in terms of some sort of debate that might unfold in advance of the Likud Party leadership convention.

WEDEMAN: And certainly it does put him in a rather difficult position regarding his desires -- or rather, his ambition to take the leadership of the Likud. But nonetheless, as you know, Israeli politics is very complicated, and things can change from one moment to the next. For instance, we have today the former defense minister of Mr. Sharon, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, coming out and harshly criticizing the government, of which he was a member for almost two years.

So, there is no reason why we can't rule out the possibility that when it comes to a leadership contest within Likud that Mr. Netanyahu will launch a very effective frontal attack on his prime minister, Ariel Sharon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Even from within the government, and Ben-Eliezer, the Labor Party leader, he wants to challenge whoever is the Likud leader in that next election. We'll be watching Israeli politics unfold in the weeks and months to come -- the end of January not very far away.

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