Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fiercely attacked a statement by Minister for Agriculture Yisrael Katz and Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar, in which the two said they would back early Likud primaries if Sharon did not announce, in the short term future, that he was planning on remaining in the Likud.
"Don't worry – we will win the elections, and keep the Likud in power for many years," Sharon told activists at a meeting.
Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, who met yesterday with Benjamin Netanyahu, echoed the call by Katz and Sa'ar for the prime minister to declare his commitment to remaining in the Likud.
According the Gamliel, Sharon's unwillingness to commit to remaining the party, and his refusal to abide by decisions made by the Central Committee, mean that there is no choice but to bring forward the primaries.
During a Likud Committee conference on Tuesday, the prime minister told activists, "The important day is September 26, but don't abandon me on the 25th. I don't want to leave and I won't resign, despite requests by those wishing for my departure."
Planning to win
He added: "I wasn't here for a few days and I heard that there are those saying that I was planning on winning in the Central Committee and then to retirefrom the Likud. I am planning on winning in the Central Committee, running for the Likud leadership, and to lead the leadership to elections and stay in power."
An aide to Knesset Member Benjamin Netanyahu, responding to Sharon's comments, said: "Again it has been proved that Sharon is planning on leaving the Likud to set up a competitive party. He is refusing to commit to staying in the Likud, but won't retire."
"Sharon's camp changes its position every few hours, and denies statements made by the prime minister himself. This shows panic. They are under pressure ahead of their defeat in the Central Committee," added the aide.