(photo credit: )
Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu attempted to build on momentum from his victory in Tuesday's Likud primary by daring Labor chairman Ehud Barak on Wednesday to force a general election.
Netanyahu did not take time to savor his victory in the Likud race. He immediately began working on his next election campaign, this time for prime minister.
"I call upon Ehud Barak to keep his promise and advance the election now," Netanyahu said. "I invite him to coordinate with me a date for the general election. The public wants it and the time has come."
Editorial: Let's see plans
Netanyahu's associates went further, saying Barak, as the head of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's largest coalition partner, could force an election at any moment and therefore he should "bring it on."
Barak declined to respond to Netanyahu's challenge. Labor MKs who support quitting the coalition said Barak would not take steps to advance the election until the Winograd Report comes out, which could happen anytime from October to March.
Olmert responded to Netanyahu's call for advancing the election by saying, in a meeting with Kadima council members in his Jerusalem residence: "I hear the voices of those who want to replace me from the other parties. I want to say to them, 'We have already seen what you are capable of.'"
According to final results, Netanyahu won the primary with 72.8 percent of the vote, compared to 23.4% for Moshe Feiglin and 3.77% for Danny Danon. The voter turnout was 40.2%.
Netanyahu beat Feiglin in Jerusalem 58% to 39%. Feiglin beat Netanyahu in settlements like Efrat, Hashmonaim and Kiryat Arba.
Netanyahu said he would continue fighting Feiglin. He will try to expel him through internal Likud courts and the High Court of Justice, and would initiate a Likud membership drive ahead of the election for the party's Knesset list to "drown out" Feiglin's support.
"Feiglin is an intruder into the party and the fate of his membership is in the hands of the courts," Netanyahu said. "His group won't have any impact on me, on the Likud list or on anything. Their number is not growing. When more people vote, which will happen with the Knesset list, their support will be more watered down."
Sources close to Feiglin said they would defend themselves by trying to expel Likud MKs, such as their nemesis Limor Livnat, who violated the Likud's platform by voting for disengagement from the Gaza Strip. They said Feiglin's support would continue to grow, as it has since the 2003 Likud race, when he won 3% of the vote, and the 2005 primary, when he won 13%.
"Likud members said with their votes that they want leaders with faith who give hope that the country will survive and blossom," Feiglin said. "I am not taking over the Likud. I am simply persuading people."
Labor and Kadima MKs said Feiglin's strong finish should convince Likud voters to switch their allegiance to a more moderate party.
Sources in Kadima close to Olmert said the Likud had been tainted by Feiglin's extremism and that Likud members with a conscience should move to Kadima.
"The people are looking for responsible and moderate leadership," Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said. "The Likud holds contests to determine who could be a more right-wing extremist. The Likud under Bibi [Netanyahu] and Feiglin gave a divorce document to centrist voters and proved that everything must be done to prevent them from leading the country. Bibi remains the same Bibi who is unable to make decisions under pressure or lead the country."