After an approximately 11-hour flight, Sharon will return from his stay “on top of the world” to Israel’s internal political swamp, which the prime minister left last week, allowing his Likud rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau to take the stage uninterrupted.
A recent Yedioth Ahronot newspaper and “Dahaf Institute" survey of Likud Central Committee members found that 47 percent of Commitee members are interested in bringing the primary elections forward, in support of Netanyahu and Landau's initiative, while 45 percent oppose the move, thereby backing the prime minister, who wishes to hold elections on schedule.
The poll also showed that in a three-way race, Sharon would gain 39 percent of the party members’ votes, Netanyahu would gain 29 percent and Uzi Landau would come in last with 16 percent.
In a head-on battle between Sharon and Netanyahu in Likud primary elections, the prime minister would come out on top with 43 percent of the votes, with Bibi picking up 40 percent of the votes, the poll showed.
Moments before departing for Israel, Sharon addressed the reports regarding the possibility that he would leave Likud, saying, “I am not concerned (over my political future), so why are you?”
Meanwhile, Sharon’s close associates dismissed reports suggesting the prime minister has already decided to leave the ruling Likud party, saying such decision was never taken.
Sharon and U.N.'s Kofi Annan (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
“Whoever spoke, spoke on behalf of himself without knowing the details and understanding the processes apparently,” one source said. “Such decision was not taken and the prime minister is going to win in the Likud Central Committee on September 26, stay in the movement, and lead it.”
‘This must be stopped now, and quikcly’
On September 26, members of the Central Committee will be asked to vote on pushing primaries for the party’s leadership forward, in what is seen as a direct challenge aimed at toppling the prime minister.
Sharon’s associates criticized those quoted in the Israeli media as saying the PM decided to leave the Likud and said their comments stemmed from personal motives and caused damage.
“The prime minister’s chances of winning in the Central Committee are significant, and whoever thought such leak is beneficial or exerts pressure…was wrong,” one source said. “The talk about leaving the Likud…provided Netanyahu with a backwind. This must be stopped now, and quickly.”
During his first days back in Israel, Sharon is expected to mainly deal with political matters and is set to prepare for the Central Committee battle, with the main objective being an attempt to curb the momentum in favor of Netanyahu.
Shalom to back PM
In recent days, Sharon was unable to attend to internal Likud matters, allowing Netanyahu, Landau, and far-right Likud activists to issue scathing attacks against the prime minister while he was abroad.
Sources close to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he too will undertake efforts to prevent a Likud split and will help Sharon win the upcoming Likud vote. Shalom associates told Ynet the main objective is to reject the proposal to push forward the primaries, thus leaving Sharon as head of the party and the country.
Meanwhile, despite Sharon’s trip, his close advisors and activists within the Likud continued to act intensively in order to ensure his victory. According to estimates, if voter turnout rates are high enough, the Prime Minister will be able to defeat the early primaries proposal on September 26.