Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu denied reports on Monday that he was considering dropping out of the Likud leadership race and accepting a compromise proposal that would guarantee him the second slot on the Likud Knesset
According to the proposal, the Likud primary would be canceled and Sharon would have to commit to bringing future territorial concessions to a national referendum. Former Likud MK David Mena, who initiated the idea, said that dozens of Likud central committee members had already signed his petition to convene the committee to approve canceling the primary.
Netanyahu issued a statement saying that he was determined to continue running. His bureau chief, Yechiel Leiter, said that the proposal had no grounds in reality. He said that if Sharon was serious about getting Netanyahu out of the race, he would accept Netanyahuâ€™s demands to build between Jerusalem
and Maâ€™aleh Adumim and rule out future disengagements.
Likud central committee members called Netanyahu and tried to persuade him that by accepting the proposal he would avoid a potential loss to Sharon that could give him the reputation of a serial loser like Shimon Peres
. But Netanyahuâ€™s associates said he was not worried about losing.
â€œWe have no intention of losing to Sharon, but Bibiâ€™s young enough that if he does lose to him, he could take a break from politics and return later when the public demands his return,â€ Leiter said.
Leiter said that Netanyahu was looking forward to running against new Labor chairman Amir Peretz
because the campaign would be focused on diplomatic and economic issues, where there are significant differences in worldview between them.
Netanyahu met with Likud leadership candidate Uzi Landau
in Tel Aviv
on Sunday. Netanyahu asked Landau for his opinion on the proposal.
Landau told Netanyahu that he would remain in the race even if Netanyahu accepts the proposal to become Sharonâ€™s number two, or if Sharon leaves the Likud.
Mena said that he initiated the proposal because unity is necessary in the Likud after Peretzâ€™s victory. He added that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
and other ministers were promoting the proposal behind the scenes and that he would try to talk to Sharon and Netanyahu about the proposal personally.
Sharon is expected to announce soon whether he is staying in the Likud or forming another party. In a sign that Sharon will choose the first option, Channel 10 reported that Sharonâ€™s associates have examined the possibility of former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter
joining the Likud.