With the Likud doing well in polls and headed for apparent victory in the next elections, whenever they are held, at least one MK sows dissention.
MK Silvan Shalom has announced his withdrawal from the race for party leadership, saying that leader Binyamin Netanyahu will "not succeed in banishing me from the party. I've been here longer than he has."
Netanyahu met last week with his main challenger, MK Shalom, but the two could not agree upon a date for the primaries. In general, Netanyahu wanted an earlier date, in order to capitalize on his popularity in the polls, while Shalom wanted more time to prepare. With no agreement in sight, the party's Central Committee, a majority of which supports Netanyahu, is to convene Tuesday and likely choose Sept. 3 as the date of the primaries. Many Committee members are in favor of holding primaries early so that the party can prepare properly for the national elections, which could occur in March or May of 2008. The Likud party is currently leading in the polls over both the Kadima and Labor parties.
In response to the early-date decision, Shalom called a press conference Monday in which he announced his withdrawal from the race. "Everything runs according to the same system of polls," Shalom accused Netanyahu. "It's just a show, as if it's an election. What is happening in the Likud is just like the Baath regime in Syria. I won't be a party to this."
Sources in the opposing camp said that Netanyahu had acted in good faith, trying to come up with an agreed-upon date, and that Shalom was simply looking for a way to avoid an electoral confrontation. "He has shown he cannot win, and now we see he can't lose respectably either," the sources said. Netanyahu will not save the party Knesset list's second spot for Shalom, as he did last time.
Observers say that Shalom prefers to push off his contest with Netanyahu until a few months from now, by which time Netanyahu's popularity as Opposition Leader in the Knesset may have waned. However, Shalom could have had other reasons - and they are named Moshe Feiglin.
Feiglin Still in the Running
Feiglin is now the lone remaining challenger to Netanyahu. The head of the party's Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction and known in the government-controlled electronic media for his hawkish views, Feiglin won a respectable 12.5% of the vote in the previous primaries, and is hoping to win the next one.
The Jerusalem Post reported last week that a Brain Base Institute poll found that 78% of Likud voters would vote for Netanyahu, 14% for Feiglin and just 8% for Shalom. Feiglin could therefore be the true explanation for Shalom's sudden self-removal from the race.
Speaking with Arutz-7 today, Feiglin agreed with this explanation. He did not wish to comment on the spat between Shalom and Netanyahu, however, and said that he is satisfied with the Sept. 3 date. "What we need now is volunteers, and lots of them. They will have to go door-to-door and speak with people, and hand out flyers at intersections, and make phone calls. There is a lot of work to do!"
Some 100,000 Likud members are eligible to vote in the upcoming primaries.
Manhigut Yehudit announced that it "welcomes the primaries [as a] golden opportunity to achieve the leadership position in the Likud and, no less important, to get our message of faith-based leadership into every home in Israel... The State of Israel cannot continue to exist for much longer without belief-based leadership. That is why losing is not an option. We must be sure that we are ready for the primaries. We need to enlist all of the healthy, belief-based forces that the Jewish People can muster -- both volunteers and contributors. We must make sure that every person who has signed up for the Likud through Manhigut Yehudit actually does go to vote -- even if he is in the middle of his summer vacation on the Kinneret! We must go house to house and reach all the Likud members -- just like we did before the Disengagement referendum -- and explain that authentic Jewish leadership can save Israel. We need contributions to allow us to build an effective campaign. No less important, we have to honestly desire to lead Israel to its Jewish destiny. We must pray with all our hearts that this time, people who genuinely wish to perfect the world in the Kingdom of the A-lmighty will be given the chance to lead."