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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu hopes he will be luckier than his predecessor, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when the Likud central committee selects the party's Knesset slate on Thursday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
Three years ago the central committee elected 13 unknown hawks, who came to be known as the "Likud rebels" and who did everything possible to prevent Sharon from carrying out his agenda.
Netanyahu does not want to experience what Sharon went through, so he has made it very clear whom he would like to see in the next Knesset. Until Sharon's stroke, Netanyahu went to a different political rally every night and endorsed a total of eight candidates.
Because he wants a relatively moderate slate, Netanyahu endorsed MKs Michael Eitan and Yuval Steinitz, who both backed disengagement. To attract support from Russian immigrant voters, he wants Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein on the list. He needs Ehud Yatom on the list because he is the Likud's only former security official.
Uzi Landau and former Finance Ministry director-general Shmuel Slavin are also on Netanyahu's preferred list because of a personal history between them. Netanyahu endorsed coalition chairman Gideon Sa'ar because Sa'ar is seen as a rising star in the party. Sa'ar is expected to finish first in the race and win the third slot on the Likud list behind Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
A Dahaf Institute poll in Yediot Aharonot predicted that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Landau, Health Minister Dan Naveh, Eitan, Steinitz, MK Gilad Erdan and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz would round out the Likud's top 10.
Sharon's departure from the political scene has made it likely the Likud will recover some of the seats it lost to Kadima and perhaps even enable the party to elect newcomers. The slots after 18 are reserved for candidates who have never been MKs.
That's where the Likud rebels were elected last time and where potential rebels who could cause problems for Netanyahu might get elected this time. A hawkish group in the central committee called the Forum for Safeguarding Likud Values circulated a list of candidates who would be loyal to the Land of Israel.
The list includes MKs who voted against disengagement and the addition of Labor to the coalition and for a national referendum. The list of the newcomers the group supports can be used to indicate which future MKs might rebel against Netanyahu's policies.
Among the names to keep in mind for the future are Emanuel Weiser, who is running for the 19th slot on the list, reserved for a candidate from Tel Aviv; Gabi Avital and Yariv Levine, who are competing for the 20th slot that is reserved for a candidate from the Coastal Plain; Shimon Gafsou, who is running for the 27th slot, reserved for a candidate from the North; and Slavin, who is running for the 31st slot, reserved for a Jerusalemite.
"We need to watch over Bibi to make sure he doesn't go to the Left," Slavin said. "We know that he is more democratic than Sharon and that therefore if the faction or the central committee would tell him no, he would go to elections. You always have to watch over a leader and make sure he goes the right way."