Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has won a critical vote in the Likud, giving him the right to postpone party primaries for 20 months.
Over three-quarters, 77%, of Likud Central Committee voters were reported to have voted for his proposal postponing party primaries until 2011. The vote represented a significant, possibly fatal loss for the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction, headed by Moshe Feiglin, which had attempted to convince voters that postponing the elections would lead to the division of Jerusalem.
Some 2,055 Likud Central Committee members, nearly 81%, were reported to have voted - a strong indication that Netanyahu was going to win. His proposal required a 2/3 majority, and he received 10 percentage points more than he needed. He called on Likud members to vote for his proposal in order to allow him to "carry out my agenda at these difficult times" without the distraction of divisive party politics.
The vote was accompanied by accusations that the Netanyahu camp had rigged the election by refusing to allow observers in the polling stations or to allow free access to the registration rolls.
When the polls closed at 10 PM, an exhausted Moshe Feiglin, who had appeared to be near despair during the course of the day, still refused to give up . Although the twenty month delay will give the Netanyahu time to marginalize Feiglin's faction by enlarging party ranks, Feiglin called a press conference and issued the same message he has been giving for nearly a decade: "I call upon the entire nationalist camp to join the Likud.... We will soon find ourselves facing elections for party leader, and we cannot afford to allow ourselves a nationalist leader who takes the votes of the nationalist camp and gives them to the left in such a disgraceful manner."
"I thank G-d for having surrounded me with such great people," he said, referring to all the Manhigut Yehudit volunteers who worked for today's elections.
Feiglin repeated throughout the day his prediction that the results of the vote today would determine the future of Jerusalem: "Netanyahu wants to delay the elections for the new Central Committee, so that he can have quiet for the next year or two and cut a deal with Obama for the division of Jerusalem, just as Obama has been demanding."
Feiglin claimed that if Obama has invited Shas party leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai to the White House for talks - it is a clear sign that the U.S. administration no longer attributes much importance to the Likud, but only to its senior coalition partner, Shas. "Don't you see?" he pleaded often throughout the day to Likud members. "Netanyahu wants to marginalize you! you have not interested him since the last party vote, and now he won't need you until the next election! And all this while the Likud itself is marginalized - even Obama realizes that!"
"We learned today," Feiglin said after the vote, "that Netanyahu cares only about what happens in his party. If it were not for Manhigut Yehudit, nothing would stand in his way to divide Jerusalem."
Prime Minister Netanyahu said after the vote, "This was an important achievement, which proves again that the Likud is a responsible and balanced movement that is worthy of running the country."
Questions About Feiglin's Strategy
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) responded to the vote in the Likud by saying, "This was a sad defeat for Feiglin, but it proves that it doesn't matter how many people he signs up to the Likud, he will always lose because the Likud party hacks don't care about him. This is the moment of truth for Feiglin and his movement. I call on him to return home to the National Union."
The call may fall on deaf ears, however, because Feiglin has often stated his belief that the nationalist camp has no chance of passing its agenda unless it does so via a major party, namely the Likud.
In Likud party primaries in 2007, Feiglin ran for the second time for party leader, receiving 23.4% of the votes while losing to Netanyahu. Feiglin was voted into the 20th spot on the party's Knesset candidates list prior to the 2009 elections, but was later demoted to #36 in what many feel was an undemocratic move. Netanyahu has said that Feiglin and his followers do not belong in the Likud.