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Israel, Palestinians, gear for elections

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Wednesday moved to consolidate his newly formed party bringing in one of the Labor Party's outstanding figures, the just resigned Minister without portfolio Haim Ramon.

Ramon had for years predicted a "big bang" that would shake up the political system where hawks and doves could be found in same party and where "right" and "left' lost their original meanings. Now that this seemed to be materializing he jumped ship to join Sharon's new list that comprises relative doves and is centrist.

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Labor Party decision to quit Sharon's Cabinet went into effect Wednesday afternoon so its ministers are out. More ministers might quit next month. The Likud, Sharon's former party, will decide then, after its primaries, whether its ministers should quit. The Likud currently holds some of the key cabinet portfolios including defense and foreign affairs.

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However after Dec. 8, when an official decree for the Knesset's dissolution is published, he may appoint Knesset members to cabinet positions without seeking parliamentary approval.

"Election fever" has already heated the political scene with former political allies attacking one another.

At the press conference in which he announced he was joining Sharon's list, Ramon maintained that betting on an inexperienced candidate for prime minister, as Peretz is irresponsible. Ramon, a veteran of several cabinets, recalled that two prime ministers (he was referring to Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu) had failed because they made mistakes that experienced leaders knew to avoid.

Peretz climbed the ranks of the labor federation but was never a cabinet minister. He has catapulted social and economic issues into the election campaign forcing other parties to address those issues as well.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, of the Likud, Wednesday attacked his party colleague, former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose economic policies were hard on many poor people. Mofaz and Netanyahu are running for the Likud leadership.

Mofaz, whose family emigrated from Iran and was poor, told reporters: "I was raised in a house where the bread was cut thickly but the spread was thin. I left home at the age of 14 because of distress... I did not grow up with a golden teaspoon in my mouth." Netanyahu, the son of a history professor, was raised in an affluent part of Jerusalem, went to MIT, and lived in the United States.

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"Israel needs an economy that suits its needs, not an economy befitting the United States," Mofaz said.

Meanwhile some 800 Fatah members were preparing for their party's primaries, Friday, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

They were competing for 264 slots from which Fatah's leaders will chose the 132 candidates for the Legislative Council.

The parliamentary elections have been scheduled there for January 25.

The main competition is between the older generation, people who are 65 or older, some of whom came from Tunisia with Yasser Arafat. That generation is trying to preserve its positions of power, in the face of a younger generation, of people in their mid-30s, 40 and 50s who grew up in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, commanded the first intifada and often served time in Israelis jails.

In part it is a struggle for power between two generations but there is also a struggle between reformists and conservatives, noted Prof. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University's Political science Department.

The reformists want, for example, to combat corruption and have a more transparent system, he said.

"We're not against the elder generation, the Fatah leadership that had been responsible in the past," said Diab e-Louh, who heads Fatah's Media and Culture Department and is a member of the movement's Revolutionary Council.

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E-Louh told UPI they want the new leadership to go to people who are now in the "second rung", who are 40 or 50 years old. If they get half the seats they would consider it a success, he said.

In the latest poll by Palestinian Center for Public Opinion people were asked whom they would have voted for if elections were held now. Fatah seemed to hold its ground with 37.5 percent of the votes (0.1 percent more than in the a poll conducted in August). Support for Hamas dropped from 26.9 percent to 22.1.

Jarbawi said he believed one of the reasons for that drop was Hamas' responsibility for an accident in the Jabaliya refugee camp, in Gaza, when Hamas brought missiles to a rally and they exploded.

He said he was not sure Friday's primaries would necessarily produce a more attractive list of candidates.

"There are more (candidates) than the list can contain and people are fighting internally," he said.

One of the possibilities is that Fatah members who do not make it to the party's official list will run, nevertheless. In the last elections Kadurah Fares, a young leader who did not make it to the official list, ran on his own, was elected, and then became a cabinet minister. hat could happen again, Jarbawi said.

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Fatah's main rival, Hamas, has already chosen its candidates.

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