Netanyahu sets Likud race for next month

Move likely to prevent challenge by Shalom - who called PM's move "illegal" and said he intended to fight it.

PM Netanyahu, VP Silvan Shalom_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PM Netanyahu, VP Silvan Shalom_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shocked his Likud Party on Sunday when he announced that he intends to advance the Likud leadership race to January 31.
Netanyahu revealed his decision in conversations with Likud ministers.
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The move is likely to prevent a challenge by Vice Premier Silvan Shalom and any other potential candidate, except for far-right activist Moshe Feiglin.
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.
A source close to Netanyahu said he wanted to hold the race now, rather than closer to the date of the next general election, in order to concentrate on more serious security and diplomatic issues later on.
The source said getting the primary out of the way would enable the party to avoid dealing with internal problems ahead of the general election and concentrate on defeating Kadima.
Kadima head Tzipi Livni last week quashed an effort by her party rivals to advance the leadership race in her party. A Netanyahu associate said that his move showed that the prime minister, unlike Livni, had nothing to fear.
The final reason given for holding the race on January 31 was that the Likud was already set to hold an election that day for a new central committee. Combining the races will save the Likud an estimated NIS 4 million.
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.