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Sharon, Likud Party Win Decisively In Israeli Elections about Security

By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won a decisive victory in Israeli elections Tuesday, gaining an overwhelming endorsement for his harsh military crackdown on the Palestinian uprising and his tough response to terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, according to television exit polls.

The outcome was a blunt repudiation of parties that advocate more conciliatory polices toward the Palestinians, particularly for Amram Mitzna, the Labor Party leader who campaigned on a platform of reopening long-stalled negotiations and withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank.

The results could make U.S.-Israeli relations more difficult by hardening Israel’s stand in U.S. and European efforts to revive peace talks and end the 28-month-old uprising that has killed more than 700 Israelis and 1,800 Palestinians. If the Labor Party and other centrist parties rebuff Sharon’s efforts to build a national-unity coalition, he’s likely to seek a majority with smaller, ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, reinforcing opposition to a U.S.-endorsed peace plan calling for a halt to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and, eventually, a Palestinian state in the two occupied territories.

In a campaign that revolved around security, Sharon’s Likud Party overcame concerns about Israel’s floundering economy and a looming U.S. war against Iraq to claim an estimated 36 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament, the Knesset, according to the exit polls. Mitzna and his Labor Party captured only an estimated 18, down from 25.

“The parties that collapsed are the parties of Oslo -- those that supported concessions to the Palestinians,” said the Likud’s hard-line minister for public security, Uzi Landau, referring to the 1993 Oslo peace agreement. “The national camp got a clear mandate. Peace and negotiations have to be based on uprooting terrorism. We will protect our security. That is the message.”

Sharon led in the polls from the outset of the campaign, but he faltered several weeks ago after he and his sons got caught up in a corruption scandal that has dogged the Likud for about two months. While some polls showed the Likud’s lead over Labor dropping to as little as three seats following the reports, many supporters considered the corruption allegations to be part of a left-wing political vendetta and rallied to Sharon’s support. Combined with underlying support for his tough security policies, Sharon bounced back even higher than expected.

The stridently secular Shinui Party more than doubled its membership, to an estimated 16 seats, by promising to push for cuts in state-sponsored benefits to Orthodox Jews. The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party appeared to win 12 seats, a drop from 17, the polls showed. Meretz, one of Israel’s clearest-cut peace parties, saw its membership sliced from 10 to an estimated six, prompting its leader, Yossi Sarid, to announce his resignation only minutes after the exit polling was announced.

The Israeli government reported election results as the percentage parties received, promising to translate the outcome into parliamentary seats Wednesday. But television stations, based on exit polls and surveys, provided estimates of how the parties will line up in the new parliament.