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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 12:43 GMT
Mid-East press weigh Sharon win
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledges the applause of party supporters in Tel Aviv
Victory could herald a rocky road ahead for Sharon
The Likud Party's electoral triumph poses a major test for the right and horse-trading to form a coalition is likely to become savage, according to Israel's leading dailies across the political spectrum.

While some see it as an opportunity for the country to forge a clear policy on the pressing issue of relations with the Palestinians, others fear it could lead to increasing tensions with the US and Europe.

He now faces the nightmare of a narrow, extremist government. Sharon will be prisoner of the extreme right

Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz

Also up for debate is the future of the Labour Party after its disastrous showing.

But for newspapers in the Arab world, the Likud victory prompts widespread pessimism.

Running scared?

A commentator in the liberal Ha'aretz argues the victory has placed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an invidious position.

"For the first time a prime minister from the right has a difficult, unprecedented problem with part of his own camp - he can neither swallow it nor reject the extreme right.

"Sharon can now only eat the gruel he cooked if he totally changes his approach to the key issue - a deal with the Palestinians." Failure to tackle the Palestinian issue could "cause a conflict with the US and in effect the entire West", the commentator says.

The cheers of victory have yet to fall silent and the Likud leaders have already started to panic

Yedi'ot Aharonot

"The great absurdity of yesterday's decision is therefore that Sharon has become the only alternative to himself."

For leading Ha'aretz commentator Yoel Marcus, Mr Sharon "first and foremost, skewered himself".

"With the public turning right and the collapse of the peace process, he now faces the nightmare of a narrow, extremist government. Sharon will be prisoner of the extreme right."

The top circulation, centrist Yedi'ot Aharonot argues that, paradoxically, the victory has Likud running scared.

"The cheers of victory have yet to fall silent and the Likud leaders have already started to panic. Voters gave their movement the power to hit at the Palestinians as it pleases, expel or kill Arafat, cultivate submissive Palestinian leaders, inherit the land from the sea to the River Jordan and even further."

Pleading in vain

"But instead of girding their loins for these tasks and being happy at the historic opportunity, Likud leaders hastened to call on the defeated Labour Party, almost beg it, to join them.

"It seems that the real reason is, they are afraid. Likud fears the implementation of its ideology. Deep inside its leaders know it would be a disaster."

Yediot commentator Sima Qadmon forecasts that whatever options emerge to form the next coalition, "the bad or the worse", the life of the next government will be "short".

If Labour persists in its refusal to join, it is the duty of Sharon to implement the wish of the voter. He must prove the right has a platform and that it has policies to cover all fields

Hatzofe

Another Yediot commentator, Nahum Barnea, gives Mr Sharon some advice, should he decide to seek "a far-reaching political settlement" with the Palestinians.

"Whoever wants to go for a political settlement should not fear the evacuation of a few settlements."

A leading right-wing daily, Hatzofe, welcomes the Likud's "crushing victory". but calls for what most agree is impossible. "The prime minister should turn to the Labour Party and propose that it join a national unity government."

"If Labour persists in its refusal to join, it is the duty of Sharon to implement the wish of the voter. He must prove the right has a platform and that it has policies to cover all fields."

The left-leaning, second largest circulation Ma'ariv cautions the prime minister against finding himself "trapped in a narrow right-wing government that would scare the whole world".

"Sharon needs to confront his camp, his party, and link-up with his opponents in the centre and the left."

A Ma'ariv commentator considers that "despite the big victory, a difficult life awaits the prime minister at home and abroad".

Exodus from Labour

The English-language Jerusalem Post notes that the re-election of Mr Sharon is "no mean feat in our recent history".

There was a mass exodus of Ashkenazis from the ranks of Meretz and Labour

Ma'ariv

"In short, this is a defining moment for Sharon, the Likud, and the Right as a whole. They are victorious, they have a mandate, and now they must show that they can govern. The Right must go beyond defining itself by what it is against, and explain and pursue what it is for. The election was more a rejection of the left than it was an embrace of the Right."

Ma'ariv analyses the Labour defeat, considering it "the most stinging in its history".

It argues that there was a "mass exodus of Ashkenazis [Jews of European origin] from the ranks of Meretz and Labour" because they felt "disadvantaged and abused".

Ha'aretz says that despite the setback, Labour's role should be seen as equal to Likud's.

It calls on Labour to "stick to its platform, to use it to undermine government policies, and to convince the public that its approach offers an alternative that serves the national interest far better. Today, the campaign for the 17th Knesset begins."

Arab fears

Newspapers in the Arab world, meanwhile, fear the election result is a cue for more violence against the Palestinians.

The Israelis gave Sharon a clear mandate to continue his bloody policy

Al-Quds Al-Arabi

For Egypt's Al-Ahram, Likud's victory "will merely serve to achieve a new mandate to continue with its hostile methods against the Palestinian people".

Oman's Al-Watan frets that "the world may witness more blood after the Israeli elections".

An editorial in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi argues "the Israelis gave Sharon a clear mandate to continue his bloody policy".

"Sharon is not a person who would easily admit the failure of his policy. His big victory yesterday will make him more adamant on continuing down his bloody path."

The daily says there is "no other option than to sit round a table to negotiate a peaceful solution".

And another London-based daily, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, calls on the Palestinians and the Arabs "to work out a strategy to face up at least two years of a right-wing government in Israel".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds
"In victory keen to talk about national unity"
Amram Mitzna, Labour leader
"We offer a way for hope.. the electorate have chosen a different way"
Palestinian cabinet minister Nabil Sha'ath
"We have to expect difficult days ahead"

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28 Jan 03 | Middle East
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