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Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom will not speak publicly about the possibility of a renewed Likud leadership race until after the results of Tuesday's elections are in and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu announces his future, Likud officials said Sunday.
Shalom spent Sunday touring Likud rallies, and he will continue his efforts to help the Likud on Monday and Tuesday. What he does from then on will depend on whether Netanyahu succeeds in getting 20 seats on Election Day.
Netanyahu said recently that he intended to remain in the Knesset until he was the age of 82-year-old Kadima candidate Shimon Peres. But his opponents in the Likud believe that, if the party fares poorly, he would decide on his own to quit the Knesset and the party leadership, as he did after his 1999 loss to Ehud Barak.
"If he won't leave on his own, the people in the Likud will make him go," a Netanyahu opponent in the party said. "Bibi knows that he will receive credit if he succeeds in the election and that the responsibility is his if he fails."
Shalom, who was Netanyahu's predecessor as finance minister, is said to be angry at Netanyahu for saying in recent interviews that he received the Treasury when the economy was on the brink of collapse. He also opposed Netanyahu's decision to remove Likud ministers from the government on the day of the race for the party's Knesset slate, and he was skeptical of Netanyahu's move to change the system for electing Likud MKs.
Likud central committee members are ready with petitions to convene the committee as soon as possible after the election to restore their right to select MKs and to start the process for electing a new Likud leader. A group of Netanyahu opponents inside the central committee, who were involved in what was known as the "Bangkok Deal" when the party's Knesset slate was elected, said they were ready for Netanyahu to fall.
"Let the election pass first and then things will happen," central committee member Yoel Mogami said. "If Netanyahu believes he failed, he will understand and leave on his own. But if he doesn't and we get 14 mandates, people will say he has to go home and there will be elections for a new leader."
Central committee member Avi Bibi said he believed that Shalom was no better than Netanyahu, but that the polls had indicated that Netanyahu was not wanted by the public.
"I will be the last Bibi who will stay in the Likud," Bibi said. "Netanyahu will leave on his own after he realizes that he brought the party down. He will go back to the US, give speeches and make money."
In Kadima, party officials were more careful not to criticize chairman Ehud Olmert, even though support for the party has fallen significantly since he replaced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But in what might be the first cracks in the party's united stand, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Olmert made a mistake when he announced three weeks ago that it was clear that Kadima had won, and sources close to Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit said he would insist on the finance portfolio that Olmert intends to give to his close confidant, Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson.
In the Labor Party, rumors swirled over a closed-door meeting among MKs Shalom Simhon, MK Ophir Paz-Pines and MK Isaac Herzog.
Simhon, a long time colleague of ousted party leader Ehud Barak, has been instrumental in negotiating his return to the party.
Party officials expressed misgivings over the meetings, especially following rumors that Simhon was working behind the scenes for a Barak-led internal revolt following the elections.
Spokesmen for Paz-Pines and Herzog denied that the three were meeting regarding a revolt in the party, and called the meeting a "social gathering."
One veteran party member said that the likelihood of challenges to chairman Amir Peretz's leadership depended on the number of mandates he drew. If Peretz were to pass the 20-mandate mark, the member said that she was assured he would not be challenged. If, however, Labor dipped below that mark, a number of possible challenges could form from both old and new party members, said one Labor official.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.