"So what are we going to do? On the one hand, the defeat was Bibi's fault and he's got to take responsibility, on the other, there's no way I'm going to help Silvan become head of the Likud, and definitely not Limor."
The senior Likud figure ended the phone conversation with his party colleague with a promise to meet in the next few days and come up with a joint strategy. Normally he's a very confident politician, with clear opinions and quick decisions. Now, like most Likud members, he's facing a conundrum: Binyamin Netanyahu seems to be the main culprit for Likud's devastation at the polls, but in the current field of leadership candidates, there doesn't seem anyone better than he to salvage what's left of the party.-
Silvan Shalom waited barely a week after the elections to set up his standard and in interviews to all three large Hebrew newspapers, he roundly attacked Netanyahu for "eliminating the Likud in a decade" and confidently asserted that if he had led the party in the elections, they would have done better than a meager dozen Knesset seats.
Shalom's problem, is that despite his relatively good showing in the Likud primaries three and a half months ago, the next leadership contest, whenever it takes place, is going to be in a totally different Likud.
How many members will remain in the decimated party, that at its peak numbered 160,000 around the country? Many of the local leaders have already defected to Kadima. Others will just drop off now that the party cannot give out budgets and other perks, unavailable in the opposition.
Those expected to stay will be right-wing diehards, not typical Silvan voters by any means. And even holding another primaries will not be easy. Most of the Likud central committee currently opposes holding divisive internal elections at such an early stage when the party is on the rocks. But it is not the number of potential voters or the timing of the primaries that is Silvan's main problem. That problem is, he has nothing to offer the party.
To survive as a potential party of government, the Likud must have a clear ideology that differentiates it from Kadima. But the "The Silvan Plan to Save the Likud," a booklet that Shalom has already had time to publish in the short time since the elections, looks like the Kadima manifesto. It refers to "the road map," "painful concessions," "equal chances," and "closing income gaps." If that's all the Likud has to offer, then there will be no reason to vote for it next time around.
Ehud Olmert, for one, realizes that he has an historical chance to bolster Kadima's chances of remaining the natural ruling party by swallowing up the Likud. Which is why last week he spoke warmly of having the Likud join the coalition and especially praised Shalom as "having many attributes" and being "professional and serious."
Most Likud members realize that if they want to survive as an independent party, with a semblance of a chance of returning to power in the foreseeable future, Netanyahu is the only leader with the stature, seriousness and ideology, available to them right now. At least until a new white knight appears to save the right, former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon, for example.
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