Likud committee to fight Netanyahu

Party chairman wants to eliminate its power to select Knesset members.

Likud Party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu already had his hands full competing with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz for the premiership when a new front emerged on Tuesday against members of his own party's central committee. The Likud Central Committee vowed to fight Netanyahu's proposal to eliminate its power to select the party's Knesset members. Netanyahu announced his decision at a special session of the Knesset on Monday. "The election of our representatives in the Knesset should be shifted from the central committee to all the members of the party," Netanyahu said. "The central committee will still be the top institution in the party, but they will have to share the right to select MKs with all our members." The Likud decided to allow the central committee to choose its MKs in 1997, under Netanyahu's leadership. His associates said that he has since had a change of heart because of the bad reputation that the central committee has acquired. Netanyahu's associates vehemently denied any connection between the announcement and the decision of the Tel Aviv District Court the same day to convict Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal for her role in paying for hotel rooms for committee members the night before the vote on the Likud Knesset list in 2002. Netanyahu's advisers said that he had decided to change the selection system a long time ago and that he had drafted Monday's speech before the verdict in Blumenthal's case was announced. They said that Netanyahu didn't want any connection to be made between his decision and Blumenthal. Sources close to Netanyahu said he did not intend to bring his proposal to a vote in the central committee before the March 28 national election. They said he would wait for the Knesset to vote on a bill requiring large parties to select their MK lists via primaries. In the meantime, Netanyahu instructed Likud legal adviser Ya'acov Weinroth to inform the Supreme Court that the party would not object to the court cancelling a decision by the central committee to expel party officials who vote to remove the power to select MKs from their hands. Central committee member Uzi Cohen of Ra'anana said he would work to prevent Netanyahu from removing the committee's power to select MKs. He said committee members know the candidates and therefore they can make better decisions about whom to place on the Likud candidate list. He said that competing in primaries among 150,000 Likud members would be too expensive for the candidates. "We central committee members are elected officials who represent the Likud membership and we are ambassadors to the MKs," Cohen said. "There is no reason to take our right to vote away just because there are a few bad apples. I don't think fighting us will help Bibi gain any mandates." Netanyahu's foes in the central committee said that since he returned to the Likud chairmanship, instead of fighting other parties, he has fought with the party's former ministers, the Likud Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) forum and now the central committee as a whole. They said his proposal represented a "zigzag" that the Likud would pay for it at the polls.