Netanyahu confirms: Likud primaries next month

PM denies reports that he is holding reserve spot for Barak and Independence faction MKs on Likud list.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday confirmed that he would be advancing the Likud race to January 31.
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said: "I want to officially declare that on January 31 we will hold the election for chairman of Likud."
The prime minister said that the move would "save millions for our party." The Likud was already set to hold an election on January 31 for a new central committee. Combining the races will save the Likud an estimated NIS 4 million.
Netanyahu stated that by holding the race early,the Likud "won't have to get mired in internal struggles and we will be free to handle the security, diplomatic, and economic issues before us."
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Deflecting criticism of the move, Netanyahu said, "The Likud is a transparent, democratic, party and everyone can submit their candidacy. We are a unified and stable party that will continue to lead the country responsibly. I spoke to every MK in the faction yesterday. I am glad I heard a lot of support."
There have been fears inside the Likud since Defense Minister Ehud Barak broke off from Labor that he would run with Likud with the help of Netanyahu who would pass a proposal in the Likud Central Committee to reserve places for Barak and others in his five man faction on the Likud list.
When MK Tzipi Hotovely and others challenged him on the matter at Monday's faction meeting, the prime minister said: "I pledge that I never promised a reserve spot for Barak and I was never asked to."
Netanyahu's disclosure of his plan to advance primaries on Sunday was answered with an angry response from Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, a potential candidate for the leadership of the Likud.
Netanyahu called Shalom to inform him of his decision. Shalom responded that the prime minister's move was illegal and that he intended to fight it.
"There are rules in the Likud that say that the race must be held within six months of the next general election, which is set for October 2013," a source closed to Shalom said. "There is no reason to hold the race two years early. The race has to be held when it is clear which candidate would have the best chance of winning a general election." The last Likud leadership race in July 2007 was also moved up by Netanyahu in a move that angered Shalom, who ended up deciding not to run.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday praised Netanyahu's decision to advance elections, rejecting claims that the prime minister made the choice in order to avoid a crisis in the coalition.
In an interview with Israel Radio, he added that holding the party's election earlier would allow the Likud more time to become united leading up to general elections.
Erdan stated that the Likud Central Committee, and not Netanyahu has the final say in whether to advance elections and those who wish to challenge the decision should do so through democratic means and not by way of legal action. He seemed to be referring to media reports that Silvan Shalom may challenge Netanyahu's decision in court.
Israel Radio quoted Kadima sources as saying the move warranted advancing the general election as well. They added that Kadima's primaries should take place in February or March.
"The opening shot of the election has been fired," Shaul Mofaz told reporters at the Knesset, "after the Likud set a January 2012 primary, Kadima has become the only party in the Knesset that is not holding primaries. In the army it is said that those who want peace must prepare for war, and I say that those who want to topple the government and present an alternative must understand that, to be ready, we must hold primaries."
Regarding Livni's attempt to avoid initiating a leadership race he predicted that "even those grabbing onto power with their last legs will eventually crack."