Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to boost his position in the eyes of the public and has opened up an even larger gap, a poll commissioned by newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth shows.
According to the survey, a party led by Ariel Sharon, should he leave the Likud, would garner 36 Knesset seats, while a Likud led by the prime minister’s rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, would only win 14 seats.
In a similar poll undertaken two weeks ago, Sharon only received 27 Knesset seats while a Netanyahu-led Likud received 19 seats.
Meanwhile, as the vote to decide the date of the next Likud primaries approaches, Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting with his supporters to rally the anti-Sharon camp.
"What kind of tactics are these, of threats and intimidation, coming from the Prime Minister's Office? What are these threats?" asked Netanyahu.
Bibi is working to bring forward the Likud primaries in a bid to overthrow Sharon from the party's leadership.
But he fiercely denied claims that next week's Central Committee vote on whether to bring forward the primaries was an attempt to overthrow the prime minister, saying that competition was part of democracy. "Come and vote on Monday, not for me and not against Sharon, but to decide whether we are Likud, or Meretz," he said.
Netanyahu's comments drew cheers from the audience, with the majority of those present being supporters of an early primaries election.
The meeting also saw participation by Knesset Member David Levi, Yuval Shteinitz, Ayoub Kara, Michael Ratzon, and Ehud Yatom.
Some Knesset Members at the meeting claimed that the prime minister has attempted to intimidate Likud activists. Netanyahu responded by describing a Foreign Affairs Committee on the issue of the Philadelphi Route in southern Gaza.
"Guess who defended the prime minister's position? None other than Shimon Peres and Meretz people. We had a way, we had a view, and it has crashed to the foundation. We must now decide who we are representing," said Netanyahu.
Addressing Israel's future security, Netanyahu said, "To my sorrow, more rockets will fall here, and not just Qassam rockets. The way to fight this terror is to fight the policy of terror supporters. We had a stance, according to which we did not give in easily. If we give up on our way and on our ideology, people will leave us, and go to our friend, Lieberman."
Five days before the fateful Likud vote which will determine the political future of the prime minister, Sharon's camp has been busy giving out cautiously optimistic signals. However, no one in the Prime Minister's Office has been willing to promise a victory, and the main task of Sharon's aides now is to build up votes against bringing forward the primaries.
"It's very close, but we are optimistic," an aide to Sharon told Ynet. "We estimate that there will be a high percentage of voting because this is a fateful vote, and Committee members will arrive to make an impact."
Sharon's advisors believe that each side has around 1000 to 1200 votes, with another 1000 undecided Committee members. The prime minister is expected to continue his campaign in the coming days, which will include several phone calls to Likud members in an effort to convince them to arrive and vote against bringing forward the primaries.
"On Monday, we will either win, or everyone better get ready for a dramatic press conference that will apparently take place after a loss," said an aide to Sharon.
Sharon's advisors are well aware that they must wage a ferocious campaign in order to avoid a loss.
Despite polls showing public support for the prime minister, Sharon is facing a close contest in his Likud party. "It's simply unfathomable that the public backs the prime minister, but his movement rejects him and sends him home," said a Sharon aide.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report