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Netanyahu Hits the Likud Streets to Postpone Elections

To be decided Thursday, in shadow of Jerusalem construction freeze: Will Likud accept Netanyahu's mad drive to postpone party elections, or not?
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/27/2010, 1:06 PM / Last Update: 4/27/2010, 2:30 PM

This Thursday is decision day: Will the Likud accept Netanyahu's intense drive to postpone democratically-scheduled party elections, or not? The more nationalist party members say Netanyahu's bid is directly connected to his de facto freeze on Jewish construction in Jerusalem.

With a critical Likud party vote scheduled for Thursday, Binyamin Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops in order to have it go his way. He wants to postpone elections for the party's influential Central Committee for nine months, allowing him to pass the critical end-of-construction-freeze period without undue pressure from the party's more nationalist members.

Moshe Feiglin, leader of the party's nationalist Manhigut Yehudit faction, is making similar efforts to ensure that the party constitution is not changed and that elections are held on time – next month. He and others expect that his ideology's influence in the party will increase if the elections are held as scheduled – and that this will be critical for the important decisions being made now and in the coming months.

The critical vote comes on the heels of media reports that Netanyahu has come to an agreement with Obama wherein he would announce that construction in Jerusalem is not frozen, but that actually nothing would be built. The agreement even includes a clause, according to Maariv's well-connected Ben Caspit, that if the agreement is leaked or pressure mounts unduly on Netanyahu, he would be "allowed" to approve some small-scale construction in Israel's capital.

Netanyahu has scheduled at least six meetings with party members around the country in the coming two days – in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ashkelon, Netanya and Tiberias. In addition, he has urged party Cabinet ministers to take his side, but several of them are not doing so. Before a TV interview last week, thousands of text messages were sent to Likud members from Likud headquarters, urging them to watch him promise not to compromise on Jerusalem.

Netanyahu claims that elections at this time would be "a great mistake that will breach our internal unity in the face of the national and international challenges that we face."

But the Feiglin camp says that not only would postponing the elections mar the party's democratic process, but it would also allow Netanyahu relatively free rein to stop construction in Jerusalem, extend the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, and head towards the formation of a Palestinian state.