(VIDEO) A day after Bibi loses Likud vote, swords are drawn: A senior Knesset member who is part of the so-called Likud “rebels,” who have turned their back on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, says MK Netanyahu must be replaced as the leader of the anti-Sharon camp within the ruling party.
“We cannot win with Bibi,” the Knesset member told Ynet Tuesday. “The level of hostility towards him is simply incomprehensible. The comrades need to regain their composure and choose a worthy leader that could lead (the battle) against Sharon.”
Monday's Likud battle (Video: Reuters)
“If Bibi remains, Sharon will rule the Likud forever,” the MK said, and added staunch rightists within the Likud are disappointed over Netanyahu’s conduct in connection with the disengagement plan, while residents of generally poverty-stricken development towns “cannot stand him” as a result of his tough economic policies.
Shalom calls for Likud unity
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is one of several Likud ministers who remained loyal to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, urged fellow Likud members to heal the rift within the ruling party.
In a talk with Ynet Tuesday, Shalom said “now we must find the way to unite the ranks. There are no winners or losers. We must act together in order to allow the government to continue (functioning) until November 2006.”
Addressing the possibility of PM Sharon bolting the Likud to establish a new party ahead of the next general elections, Shalom said he hopes such eventuality would not materialize.
“The prime minister told me he is competing within the Likud and staying in the Likud,” Shalom said. “I will stay in the Likud regardless.”
Turning his attention to Likud “rebels, ”Shalom said he expects all MKs who opposed the government to cooperate with it.
“The upcoming tests are known – confirming the appointment of the finance minister and passing the budget in the Knesset,” he said. “We are entering a long and complex winter session, and must do everything in order to work together.”
“After the difficult trauma of the disengagement we must do everything to move forward,” Shalom added. “After all, there is a country to run and we must deal with the real things – the problems of poverty and social issues. When it comes to security, we are still facing a threat on Sderot.”
The foreign minister also said diplomatic activity must continue in order to boost Israel’s international standing and establish ties with the Arab world.
Naveh hopes to work together with Sharon
Meanwhile, Health Minister Danny Naveh, one of Sharon’s opposers, claimed that attention must be turned to what is happening inside the Likud.
“For a long time now there has been a serious rift in our movement following the withdrawal from the West Bank. We cannot ignore it. I think we should find a common ground and focus on it,” he said. “Simultaneously, it is important to work around clear principles we shared. The national way of the Likud must be maintained.”
Naveh, who joined Netanyahu’s camp before Monday’s Likud vote, said that “In political life you sometimes succeed and sometimes don’t. I acted in accordance with my truth, I made my decision after considering what is best for the Likud and my movement, and I feel that I have made the right choice. I will continue to work toward returning to the movement’s national ideological way”.
Naveh also referred to the possibility that the prime minister would nevertheless establish a new party before the national elections.
“The key for competing is accepting a democratic decision. Even if it was only by a few votes – this is the decision,” he said.
“I expect that the prime minister will also eventually work as part of the Likud, and that we will all find ourselves working together as part of the Likud according to the Likud principles.”
Sharon faces more hurdles
The state budget is set to become the PM's first major test following his Likud win. The Labor party is expected to demand many concessions in the budget, in an attempt to justify its stay in the government after the pullout's completion.
The debate on the budget is also scheduled to be held close to the Labor's primaries, during which Labor MKs will toughen their stances on political and economic issues.
Sharon is also expected to try and bring new ministers into the government. If he again chooses to favor his close associates, his growing opposition is likely to respond with fury. The PM's opposition now includes not only the original 13 Likud “rebels,” but Netanyahu, Livnat, Katz, Steinitz, Sa'ar and Gamliel as well – more than half the party. If Sharon rewards those close to him only, he may find himself in trouble.
For example, a vindictive move against Likud Chairman Gideon Sa'ar may hit Sharon like a boomerang. Sa'ar, although he set off against Sharon this time, has proven he has high parliamentary capabilities, and he is the man who can stabilize both the homefront opposition, as well as the coalition as a whole.
Diana Bahur-Nir contributed to the story