Likud to hold 'ideological retreat'

Rivlin warns making decisions now will destroy party.

The Likud faction will convene at a vacation retreat next month for two days of marathon deliberations to hammer out the party's platform on diplomatic, security and socioeconomic issues, sources close to party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu revealed to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. The party was criticized during the recent election campaign for lacking a set platform on many key issues. Netanyahu told the Likud faction on Tuesday that the party should make clear to the public what it is in favor of and not only what it is against. Netanyahu appointed MK Gilad Erdan to plan the logistics for the meeting, which is expected to be held in Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah or in Ma'aleh Hahamisha outside Jerusalem. The press will be banned from the event to keep it strictly confidential. MK Reuven Rivlin came out against the idea of holding such a meeting, suggesting that there was not enough that united the Likud's hard-core ideologues and the people who were merely using the party to advance themselves politically. "Making ideological decisions now will destroy us," Rivlin warned. At the retreat, other questions that divide the party's MKs are expected to be raised, including the date for the next Likud leadership race and MK Yisrael Katz's proposal to seek a merger with MK Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party. Since the Likud fell from 40 seats to 12 in the March 28 election, Netanyahu has tried to resist holding a Likud leadership race, while his rival, MK Silvan Shalom, has sought a race as soon as possible. But sources close to both men said that the tables have now been turned and Netanyahu is considering holding the election soon while Shalom wants the election delayed. Sources close to Netanyahu said he had managed to avoid a leadership race for long enough, and so if a race was held soon it would not be seen as an attempt to overthrow him for the party's poor showing in the election. Also, if he held the election soon, he could avoid facing off against potential candidates like Lieberman, President Moshe Katsav and former IDF chief of general staff Moshe Ya'alon. But Netanyahu is said to be worried that if a leadership race was held too soon, he could be forced to run again prior to the next general election. Katz, who chairs the party's governing secretariat, favors holding the election in October 2007 and passing a motion declaring the victor the Likud's candidate for prime minister in the next general election. Katz met with Netanyahu on Tuesday night and came out optimistic that Netanyahu would eventually accept his date for the race and his Israel Beiteinu merger idea. Netanyahu's spokesman said the party chairman is not dealing with either issue. National Union MK Effi Eitam has expressed interest in joining the Likud if it expands its ranks. Katz said he would welcome Eitam on a personal level but that it would not make political sense to merge the Likud with the National Union-National Religious Party.