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Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to pass a proposal to change the system for electing Likud MKs at a press conference on Tuesday at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters with most of the party leadership at his side.
But in private conversations, Netanyahu shrugged off the possibility that the party's central committee members would vote against the proposal, which would force them to abdicate the right to select the its Knesset list and allow MKs to be chosen by the entire party membership.
"It won't do me any damage if I fail to pass it," Netanyahu admitted.
He hinted that he might even want to lose the vote because sparring against the central committee, which has a corrupt reputation, could help him improve his image among wavering voters. Netanyahu said that if he failed to pass the proposal, he would try to pass it a second or third time, which would enable him to keep alive the story of his battle against the party's internal corruption.
"I think a lot of the public identifies with our ideas, and they are gradually realizing that they want to come back to the Likud, but they first want the election system to be changed and they are right," Netanyahu said.
The event was attended by MKs Reuven Rivlin, Limor Livnat, Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa'ar, Moshe Kahlon, Uzi Landau, Dan Naveh and Yuli Edelstein. One by one, they took turns, somewhat reluctantly endorsing Netanyahu's proposal in a process that one of the MKs said was "like pulling teeth."
MKs Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz were conspicuously absent. Their associates said they weren't invited to the press conference and that Netanyahu presented the proposal to him as a done deal after it was already published in the press.
Sources close to the two said they would not actively campaign for or against the proposal, which was bad news for Netanyahu. The backing of Shalom and Katz could have helped him pass the proposal, because they have strong support in the central committee. Their vocal opposition could have also helped Netanyahu score points.
Asked about their absence, Netanyahu said he felt confident that he could persuade them to back the proposal, which will face its first test on Wednesday when it be voted on in a meeting of the Likud's law committee. If it passes, Netanyahu is expected to convene the central committee next week to vote. Opponents of the proposal said they would try to force the vote to be held by secret ballot.
Netanyahu revealed that he explored the possibility of changing the election system before the current slate of candidates was elected, but Likud lawyers told him it wasn't legally feasible. He said he made his preference known to Likud MKs even before he was elected chairman in December.
Asked why his party was not rising in the polls, he said that changing the party's election system would help. He also accused the press of not covering the election fairly and giving Kadima chairman Ehud Olmert disproportionate attention.