The Likud central committee will convene at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday to approve party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's proposal to hold an expedited primary to select the party's candidate for prime minister in the next general election.
Netanyahu held consultations after press time to determine whether he would ask the committee to approve holding the race on his original favored date of August 7 or on the September 3 compromise date he accepted in an unsuccessful effort to appease his Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom.
Shalom decided against speaking at Tuesday's event after announcing at a press conference on Monday at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov that he would not challenge Netanyahu and party activists Moshe Feiglin and Vladimir Herczberg for the Likud leadership. Shalom fiercely attacked Netanyahu, comparing him to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who was reelected in May with 97.6 percent of the vote.
"There cannot be a fair election in two months, especially in the summer, when two million Israelis go on vacation," Shalom said. "What has happened in the Likud is a farce reminiscent of the Ba'ath regime in Syria. Is this what we want to imitate? What Bibi is planning isn't an election. It's political thievery that I cannot be a part of, so I will not run in the non-election. It's Bibi vs Feiglin. Let the best man win." Shalom accused Netanyahu of putting emotions and public opinion polls ahead of logic. He warned that the party could continue falling in the polls and lose its lead over Labor.
He said that Netanyahu's "bullying" forced many top Likud officials out of the party, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon and former ministers Dan Meridor, Roni Milo, Yitzhak Mordechai, Shaul Mofaz and Benny Begin.
"Strong-arming our members has failed," Shalom warned. "I ask Bibi - do you want to drive others out of the Likud? Do you want to drive me out too? The Likud is my home. No one can expel me from my home, not even Bibi. I was here before Bibi and I will be here after Bibi."
Shalom expressed confidence that if he had a legitimate amount of time, he could have convinced a majority of Likud members that he could have brought the party more mandates than Netanyahu and they would have chosen him. He said that if polls ahead of the next general election show Netanyahu will not win, party members will demand another primary and he would run.
Netanyahu's associates responded by calling Shalom's press conference the "pathetic excuses and lies of a loser." They said Shalom decided not to run because he realized he had no chance of winning.
"We already knew he didn't know how to win and now we know he doesn't know how to lose, either," a Netanyahu associate said. "We bent over backwards for Silvan. But he saw he would be trounced big time and he was afraid of finishing with just four percent."
The Jerusalem Post was the first to report last Wednesday that Netanyahu doubted that Shalom would end up running against him. Likud activists advised Shalom over the weekend not to run after Israel Radio broadcast a Ma'agar Muhot poll that predicted that 78 percent of Likud members would vote for Netanyahu, 14% for Feiglin and just 8% for Shalom.
Following the central committee meeting, the party will hold an event at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to mark the anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. Netanyahu and former IDF deputy chief of General Staff Uzi Dayan will be the featured speakers at the event.
Noga Martin contributed to this report.