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Chaos likely at Likud bloc leadership vote Levy and Sharon jockeying for position


JERUSALEM -- If the past is a reliable guide, the meeting Thursday at which the Likud bloc is to choose its candidate for prime minister will not go strictly according to plan.

Likud officials confidently predict that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will be the person chosen to lead the bloc of parties into the scheduled June national elections. But no one knows how much chaos might be created by supporters of his two challengers, Foreign Minister David Levy and Housing Minister Ariel Sharon.

Neither challenger is given much chance of taking over the Likud leadership, at least not immediately. But both are jockeying for position in a crowded field of would-be successors when the 76-year-old Mr. Shamir leaves politics.

Earlier installments of the succession fight have turned party meetings literally into boisterous wrestling matches. Supporters of Mr. Levy and Mr. Sharon have been known to try to shout each other down and toss chairs. In a 1990 session, Mr. Sharon commandeered a microphone to drown out a speech by the prime minister.

Mr. Levy, 54, is deputy prime minister and officially No. 2 in the party. His supporters complain that Mr. Shamir treats him as if he were No. 200. As foreign minister, Mr. Levy has appeared more interested than his boss in promoting the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Mr. Levy's aides say he is counting on placing a respectable second behind Mr. Shamir on Thursday. With a strong showing, they say, he will be able to tighten his hold on the No. 2 slot and his claim as the logical heir to the prime minister.

Mr. Sharon, 63, appears interested in displacing Mr. Shamir immediately.

Mr. Sharon is the Likud's most charismatic figure. A super-hawk, he is both admired and feared by the public. As defense minister in 1982, he was the architect of Israel's full-scale invasion of Lebanon. He was forced to resign that post after Israel's Lebanese allies massacred hundreds of people in a rampage though Beirut's Palestinian refugee camps.

His resignation did not end his political career. For nearly two years, he has been Mr. Shamir's minister of housing and the chief advocate of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In finding money to build thousands of new homes there, he justified the nickname used for both praise and criticism -- "The Bulldozer."

Mr. Shamir is said to want neither Mr. Levy nor Mr. Sharon as his successor; instead, he favors another Cabinet member, Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

If Mr. Shamir is chosen again as Likud leader, Mr. Arens is expected to battle Mr. Levy and Mr. Sharon for the No. 2 designation.

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