Amid the growing tension among the candidates for Likud leadership and the ominous polls ahead of the March general elections, the Likud Central Committee is convening in Tel Aviv Thursday to approve the date for primary elections for party chairmanship and to determine the ordering of the party’s list of candidates for Knesset. Around 850 out of the 3,000 Likud Committee members have arrived at the meeting and approved a compromise agreement according to which the first round of primaries will be held on December 19.
If a second round will be necessary, it will take place on December 26, and on January 3 a vote will be held on the Likud’s list for Knesset.
During the meeting, temporary Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi addressed the members, saying: "We will be the largest movement and we will form the government." When he mentioned "Kadima," the prime minister's new movement, the crowed booed. "That list will go backwards and backwards," said minister Danny Naveh.
Despite polls showing Likud is losing ground to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new Kadima party, Central Committee members have expressed hope that the party will eventually be able to overcome Sharon’s resignation.
“When Sharon left I made a toast; he wants to divide and give up all the territories, but he couldn’t do it here so he left for another party; he won’t succeed,” Likud Central Committee member Yitzhak Deutsche told Ynet.
Likud is gearing up for a short but emotional party leadership race. As of now, the contenders include MK Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, and MKs Uzi Landau and Moshe Feiglin.
Netanyahu with Education Minister Limor Livnat (Photo:Yaron Brenner)
A poll conducted by Israel Radio showed Mofaz is closing in on MK Benjamin Netanyahu in terms of support among Likud’s 130, 000 members in the run up to the primaries.
The poll shows that in the first round of the primaries Netanyahu will win 29 percent of the votes, Mofaz is due to come in second with 22 percent, Landau third with 14 percent, Shalom fourth with 12 percent and Moshe Feiglin fifth with 8 percent.
Few have arrived (Photo: Yaron Brenner)
'Our line will be a positive one'
If Mofaz and Netanyahu make it to the second round, Netanyahu will earn 42 percent of votes with 33 percent for Mofaz.
Shalom held a supporters' convention in Tel Aviv Thursday. About 300 activists attended the meeting.
Shalom's campaign jingle, "only Silvan can keep the Likud strong," was played during the convention.
Netanyahu, for his part, held a meeting with senior advisors in Tel Aviv to plan his campaign for the Likud primaries. Bibi chose to refrain from responding to claims made by the Mofaz and Shalom campaign headquarters against the economic policy he led as finance minister. Netanyahu’s campaign will aim to remain positive and emphasize his economic achievements.
"We do not intend on referring to Silvan Shalom and Shaul Mofaz's verbal attacks. Our line will be a positive line about the candidate Netanyahu, saying that all other candidates are worthy," a Netanyahu aide said.
However, all six candidates are expected to sign a pact calling for a clean and fair elections campaign.
MK Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, blamed the prime minister for triggering the internal Likud strife.
“It is odd that he is complaining about the internal bickering; Sharon instigated the most severe arguments in Likud,” he said.
Earlier Thursday Sharon's new party was officially registered.
An attorney acting on behalf of the new party, Yoram Raved, said: "This is a historic day with great political significant for the State of Israel."
Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion University President Avishay Braverman announced Thursday he is joining the Labor party, saying new Labor leader Amir Peretz was no communist, but rather, looking to follow in the footsteps of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
The addition of Braverman, a highly regarded official who has turned the southern university into a success story, could further boost Labor's position, after the party showed strong gains in polls following the election of Amir Peretz as its chairman.