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Netanyahu Mired in Battle with Bitter Coalition Members

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained embattled in a coalition crisis a day after his government survived a no- confidence vote in the Knesset.

Netanyahu is facing stiff criticism from ministers about his governance while he tries to reshuffle his Cabinet in the wake of Finance Minister Dan Meridor’s resignation last week.

Foreign Minister David Levy, who walked out of the Knesset along with eight other coalition members before Tuesday’s vote, has refused to meet with Netanyahu.

Israeli media speculated that Levy would resign if the prime minister invited hard-liner Ariel Sharon into the inner security Cabinet.

Netanyahu’s efforts to appoint the national infrastructure minister to take over the Finance Ministry have been hindered by Sharon’s demands that he also be included in the small group of ministers who develop peace process policy.

Meanwhile, the groundswell of opposition to Netanyahu from within his own party appeared to be gaining strength.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted senior Likud officials as saying that the coalition would not last beyond the summer.

Ha’aretz said that different scenarios were raised by the officials, including Netanyahu calling early elections, reorganizing the coalition or forming a national unity government.

The officials were quoted as saying that Netanyahu had lost the respect of Cabinet ministers from his own party, and that a growing opposition within the Likud, led by Meridor, could give Netanyahu problems in the party and the Parliament.

Meridor refused to comment Wednesday on a call by Third Way Knesset member Alexander Lubotzky to form a new, center-right faction.

Lubotzky suggested that Meridor lead such a new faction.

The Third Way, which is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, distanced itself from Lubtozky’s remarks, saying in a statement that they were his personal views and did not represent the party.

Meanwhile, 25 Knesset members met to discuss Tuesday’s acrimonious debate over the no-confidence motion, during which Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi unleashed a personal verbal assault on Labor leader Ehud Barak. They appealed for more moderate and civil debate in the plenum.

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