Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has survived a leadership challenge from within his own party.The Central Committee of Likud rejected a motion which would have advanced next year’s leadership election to Novemeber. The ballot amounted to a vote of confidence in the Israeli leader. Sharon has come under strong criticism from the right wing of his party after championing the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. A Sharon victory averts the threat of early national elections at a critical time when Israel is waiting to see if the withdrawal will lead to more violence or bolster-up the road map for peace. It was mooted that if Sharon had lost the vote he would have left Likud, the party he co-founded in the 1970s, to set up a new centrist bloc which backs his Gaza pull-out. Although Sharon won the vote it was only by a narrow margin of around 51 to 47 percent.His challenger and chief critic, Benjamin Netanyahu has not backed down. After acknowledging the result he claimed that this was only chapter one, in chapter two both he and Likud would win. During the vote, feelings were running high outside Likud headquaters. The party is deeply split over the abandonment of Israeli settlements.Netanyahu argues that the pullout is only encouraging Palestinian militants to step up more attacks on Israel.