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      Likud Race Heats Up

      The three leading candidates in the Likud primaries are taking their final swipes, a day before the vote. Feiglin says Netanyahu voters are like a "battered wife covering the bruises with make-up."
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 12/18/2005, 10:41 AM / Last Update: 12/18/2005, 12:30 PM


      The candidates in tomorrow's election are, in order of support according to latest polls, front-runner Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Jewish Leadership faction head Moshe Feiglin, and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz. Polls open Monday at 10 AM for the nearly 130,000 party members.

      Shalom has closed the gap somewhat with Netanyahu, and is also said to have a better-oiled machine for "getting the vote out."

      Netanyahu continues to accuse Shalom of planning to turn the Likud into an extension of Ariel Sharon's Kadima party. "I will make the Likud a large party that will make sure Jerusalem remains whole and united," Netanyahu said. He has exhorted his supporters that victory will only be guaranteed, and with a comfortable margin, if the volunteers in the field work hard to bring every supporter to the polling booth.

      Shalom, for his part, has accused Netanyahu of planning, if he loses, to quit the Likud and head a right-wing bloc with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. "Total nonsense," Netanyahu said in response to the charges.

      Yesha Council head Bentzy Lieberman has endorsed Netanyahu. "A reading of the political map," Lieberman said, "shows that only Netanyahu has realistic chances to head a strong nationalist camp and deal with the grave dangers presented by Sharon and the left. Electing Feiglin as head of the Likud will merely reduce the party's electoral strength in the national election."

      Feiglin responded to Lieberman's call with a bitter tirade, seemingly the result of deep frustration at the nationalist camp's failure in stopping the disengagement/expulsion:

      "We saw just a few months ago the wonderful ability of Lieberman, [Pinchas] Wallerstein and their colleagues in the Yesha Council leadership in preserving the settlement enterprise. Just like a battered wife who covers up with make-up the bruises she received from her husband, so too Bentzy and his friends return again and again to Bibi [Netanyahu], who embraced Arafat and who enabled the disengagement. Because of the Yesha Council, Bibi knows that he can safely carry out the next expulsion, because the settlers will always forgive him."

      Minister Katz, headed for a 4th and last place showing in tomorrow's election according to the polls, was also not pleased with Lieberman's call. "Supporters of the NRP and National Union should not intervene in internal Likud issues," Katz said.

      Michael Puah, a leading member of Feiglin's Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction in the Likud, said he agrees with Katz: "Outside elements need not get involved."

      Arutz-7 asked, "Would you say the same even if those outside elements supported Feiglin? After all, many feel that the Likud - as the largest right-wing party and the one whose candidate will, in many ways, represent the right-wing - belongs to all potential right-wing voters?"

      Puah: "Yes, I would say the same. The Likud 'belongs' only to those who registered with the Likud."

      A-7: "How do you answer those who say that a vote for Feiglin will only weaken Netanyahu's chances to beat Silvan Shalom, and that a Likud under Shalom would be more likely to go along with Ariel Sharon's policies?"

      Puah: "A vote for Feiglin is a vote for strengthening the Likud and restoring it to its true ideals - and this will be true even if Silvan Shalom heads the party. For after all, even if Shalom wins, what will he get - 41%? This means that his supporters are in the minority, and we will bring the Likud back to its values."