Netanyahu spreads arms 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s associates vigorously denied charges from his Likud rivals on Wednesday that he had surrendered in a fiercely fought battle over when the next Likud Central Committee election should take place.
Netanyahu decided after press time Tuesday night to cancel a vote that had been set for Thursday, which would have delayed the election from April 2010 to 2012. The central committee had set an April 28 date for the race, in a sparsely attended meeting at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Wednesday in which few MKs attended and none spoke.
The prime minister’s critics in the party accused him of surrendering to them and backing down because he was afraid of losing the vote.
They compared his failure to pass the proposal that he had pushed for to his lack of success at splitting Kadima and questioned his political acumen.
“I can only pity the prime minister because he seems to find a way to step in every political puddle in his path – completely unnecessarily and at great cost,” a Likud Central Committee member who opposed Netanyahu?s proposal said.
One Likud MK compared Netanyahu to a man who argues about the cost of a discounted item in a store, ends up paying double, and leaves without it.
Netanyahu’s associates said the real reason he canceled the vote was because Tel Aviv District Court Judge Yehuda Zeft had warned the prime minister on Wednesday afternoon that even if he had emerged victorious, the court could declare the vote invalid and force him to hold the election in April.
They said Netanyahu decided he would have a better chance of delaying the vote by appealing to the Supreme Court in a case that would be heard March 25.
When asked why Netanyahu only changed his mind close to midnight, they said that he was busy dealing with other issues until 11 p.m. and only started dealing with politics then.
“We would have won had the judge let us,” a Likud minister close to Netanyahu said. “We didn’t fail in this, and we didn’t fail in splitting Kadima. Kadima’s infighting continues, and there are six Kadima MKs who are ready to leave at any minute. Netanyahu still has no serious alternative candidate for prime minister threatening him in or out of the Likud, and anyone else can only envy his political situation.”
Asked why Netanyahu had put all his political weight on delaying the central committee race, the minister said it was important for the prime minister to enable a mass voter registration drive to take place before the new central committee was elected.
He said the current Likud membership was too right-wing and gave hawkish Likud activist Moshe Feiglin too much power over Likud ministers and MKs, whose political future rests in the hands of Feiglin and his allies.
“Delaying the [election] until after a [membership drive] was intended to allow ministers to feel flexible in future diplomatic votes,” the Likud minister said. “Had the influence of Feiglin and other power brokers been watered down, ministers and MKs would not have been under pressure to act more right-wing than they really are.”
Feiglin himself missed the drama inside his party because he was in New York attending a gala dinner fundraising for him Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) forum at the New York Yankees Stadium Legends Club overlooking the snow-covered baseball field.
At the dinner, Feiglin accused Netanyahu of abandoning his electorate and embracing the policies of the Left.
Another reason given for Netanyahu pushing so hard to delay the election was that after a new central committee is voted in, there will be races for the heads of the Likud’s institutions. Netanyahu is afraid to risk losses by his allies, including the head of the Likud secretariat, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and the chairman of the central committee, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon.
But a Netanyahu adviser denied that this was the prime minister’s concern.
“[Recently assassinated Hamas weapons procurement director Mahmoud]
Mabhouh can be the head of the central committee for all we care,” the
Netanyahu’s political rivals, including Vice Premier Silvan Shalom,
gloated about his political defeat in conversations with central
committee members at Wednesday night’s meeting.