- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, bolstered by a resounding election victory, yesterday called for national unity against "the murderous hatred" of Palestinian militants, but his efforts to form a broad-coalition government are likely to be thwarted by the defeated Labor party.
Mr. Sharon might be forced into an alliance with ultranationalist parties that want to block U.S.-backed peace moves and spur him to even tougher moves against the Palestinians. Israel TV quoted Mr. Sharon as saying off-camera that he would rather call new elections than preside over such a coalition.
But the newly elected Israeli leader yesterday rebuffed an offer by Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat to resume peace talks an indication the Israeli prime minister will stick to his tough policies in his second term.
Commenting for the first time on the Israeli vote, Mr. Arafat said that he was ready to resume peace talks. Asked by Israel TV's Channel 10 if he was willing to meet with the Israeli prime minister, his longtime nemesis, Mr. Arafat said: "Tonight. If he's ready, I'm ready."
Mr. Sharon's office said in response that Mr. Arafat funds and encourages militants attacking Israelis and that the Palestinian leader "is not and will not be a negotiating partner." Israel will only negotiate with Palestinians not involved in violence, the statement said.
Mr. Sharon told President Bush, who called yesterday to congratulate him, that he would "continue to act toward implementing the plan that they have agreed upon," Mr. Sharon's office said in a statement.
The plan calls for a limited Palestinian state after a long, violence-free period.
Many Palestinians said they feared a worsening of the Mideast crisis during a second Sharon term.
"You have Sharon in a new government, a war against Iraq imminent, the disappearance of the peace process, all these factors," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.
As perhaps Israel's most controversial politician, Mr. Sharon was considered unelectable just a few years ago. But the 74-year-old veteran of military and political wars pulled off what no prime minister has achieved since founding father David Ben-Gurion managed it in 1961 calling an early election and winning.
Mr. Sharon's hawkish Likud party almost doubled its strength, from 19 to 37 seats. But that's still well short of a 61-seat majority in the 120-member parliament.
The center-left Labor Party, which was part of Mr. Sharon's previous coalition before pulling out last November, posted its worst election showing, dropping from 26 to 19 seats.
Labor says it will not be part of any coalition led by Mr. Sharon.
Another big winner was the Shinui party led by pundit-turned-politician Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, who attracted middle-class voters rebelling against what they perceive as religious coercion by ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties.

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