THE BATTLE AGAINST MIDEAST TERROR : Prodigal to Return to Likud Fold

TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Levy, prodigal son of the center-right Likud Party, agreed Tuesday to merge his newly formed Gesher Party with Likud in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Levy's return was seen as a political victory for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cleared the field of right-wing candidates for prime minister and brought the race down to a two-man fight with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Israeli elections are scheduled for May 29. Until Feb. 25, when Islamic militants carried out the first of four suicide bombings inside Israel, Netanyahu was trailing Peres badly in public opinion polls. Since the attacks, polls show Netanyahu either even with or slightly ahead of Peres. This will be the first national balloting in which Israelis vote for their prime minister directly.

Netanyahu had earlier cut a deal with the far-right Tsomet Party and its leader, Rafael Eitan, to join forces by merging their parliamentary rosters in the upcoming elections.

Levy and Netanyahu, bitter political rivals with a history of personal animosity, said they decided to put aside their differences in an effort to oust Peres and his left-of-center government.

Support for Levy's Gesher Party had been fading, with most polls predicting it would capture no more than three parliamentary seats. His agreement with Likud ensures Levy's party seven safe seats on the Likud parliamentary list.

The agreement must be ratified next week by the Likud central committee, where little opposition is expected.

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