By DAN PERRY, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has taken a hard line against the Palestinian uprising, won a crushing victory in Israel’s election Tuesday, and partial results showed his Likud and other hawkish parties easily winning most seats in parliament.
The prospect of progress on the Palestinian front now appears to depend on whether Sharon can form a coalition that will include the opposition Labor party, which campaigned on a pledge to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
In his victory speech before jubilant supporters, Sharon called for a “unity government” and warned that “there is no cause for celebration. The battle against the terrorist organizations hasn’t ended and it claims more victims every day… It’s a time for soul-searching, for uniting.”
Israel TV quoted Sharon as saying he would not establish a right-wing government under any circumstances, although in his speech he did not offer any policy incentive to Labor.
Amram Mitzna, who led Labor to its worst defeat in history, has ruled out joining a Likud-led government, and he reiterated that stance Tuesday after congratulating Sharon on his victory. “We will remind Sharon every day that there is an alternative, that there is another way,” Mitzna said.
Even without Labor, Sharon is expected to face difficulties in forming a stable government from the myriad political and religious factions, especially amid the turmoil of the Palestinian uprising.
Despite unrelenting violence with the Palestinians and a crippling economic crisis, Likud won 36 seats in the 120-member parliament – up from 19 seats in the outgoing Knesset, according to Israel TV’s exit poll. The bloc of rightist and religious parties that support Sharon’s tough stance against the Palestinians won 70 seats overall, the TV said.
Perhaps the big winner was Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a pugnacious journalist-turned-politician who heads the Shinui Party, which has vehemently opposed joining any coalition with religious parties. Shinui was projected to emerge as the third largest with 15 seats. The Yugoslav-born Lapid, 71, called on Mitzna and Sharon to join him in a “secular unity government” excluding religious parties.
Once-dominant Labor, which called for a speedy pullout from most of the West Bank and Gaza, won only 18 seats, compared to 26 in the outgoing parliament, the TV said – a reflection of Israelis’ anger at the failure of a decade’s peace efforts with the Palestinians which the party led.