Netanyahu decides against general election

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 considered options including initiating a general election in order to take advantage of his current popularity, but decided against it, sources close to him confirmed Monday.
Netanyahu conducted a series of meetings with ministers and advisers in recent weeks in which they discussed polls indicating he had been bolstered by recent events, including the exchange for Gilad Schalit and Israel’s emergence from the UN General Assembly unscathed.
The prime minister was advised that initiating a general election would catch Kadima and Israel Beiteinu unprepared, as well as his rivals inside the Likud. But Netanyahu decided against making such a move and instead initiated only a Likud leadership race, which is set to be held January 31.
“At this moment, he does not intend to advance the general election,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “He has no such plan and he genuinely wants to complete his term that ends in 2013. We always considered that possibility but never too seriously.”
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Netanyahu spoke to every MK in Likud and received approval from all of them except Vice Premier Silvan Shalom and his political allies for advancing the Likud race. In a speech to the party, he dared Shalom, who was sitting across the room from him, to run against him.
“The Likud is a transparent, democratic party and everyone can submit their candidacy,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister disputed Shalom’s assertions that he was engaged in political thievery, and that the Likud bylaws required the leadership race be held within six months of a general election.
Recalling the last five Likud primaries, he said they were always handled quickly and were not necessarily connected to a general election.
Shalom did not respond publicly to Netanyahu’s move on Monday, but had a tough time hiding his anger at Netanyahu in several public appearances. His associates said he was waiting for the right time and place to respond and he had not yet decided whether to try to take Netanyahu to court.
According to Likud bylaws, party primaries must be held no earlier than six months before a scheduled general election.
Netanyahu received support from his number two and number three in the Likud, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Environmental Minister Gilad Erdan. Sa’ar said it was not realistic for anyone other than Netanyahu to win the race, and that “the stronger Netanyahu is, the stronger Likud will be.”
Erdan criticized Shalom, telling Israel Radio that “those who want to challenge the chairman should do it before the Likud members, because going to the courts never helps the party.”
Rather than criticize the advancement of the race, backbenchers in Likud sought to clarify whether Netanyahu intended to attempt to change the party rules in order to enable him to reserve slots on the Likud list for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Independence Party allies.
Netanyahu told MK Tzipi Hotovely, “I pledge that I never promised a reserved slot for Barak and I was never asked to.”
But coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin said Netanyahu’s comments did not rule out taking such a step in the future.
Barak told the MKs in his faction that they would run for the next election as an independent party. He said the party would intensify its political activity over the next few months.
“We will run under the Independence name and that’s what will be on our voting slips at the next general election,” Barak said. “We will appear in the election and fight strongly.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.