PM loyalists worry they don’t have the votes to delay Likud

Netanyahu attacks Feiglin, rallies forces ahead of Thursday's ballot

Bibi at Likud rally (photo credit: Associated Press)
Bibi at Likud rally
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Two days before a crucial Likud central committee vote, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rallied his forces at three different meetings on Tuesday, blasting his in-party rivals and talking up his diplomatic efforts.
But beneath the veneer of confidence, Netanyahu loyalists were concerned about their ability to gain the two-thirds majority needed to delay internal elections.
“I am asking to hold the Likud Convention in another 10 months and not now,” Netanyahu told supporters at the largest of the three rallies, held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
“To my regret, there is a marginal and extreme minority that does not want that, that is trying to seed fear among public leaders in order to choose a way that is foreign and does not represent the Likud,” he said.
“We are not a messianic and extremist movement, but rather a national and liberal one. We do not support failure to carry out [IDF] orders and we do not oppose the rule of law. There is a extreme and marginal movement that is trying to crumble our unity and has come to preach to me, to [Minister-without-Portfolio] Bennie Begin and to [Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe] “Bogie” Ya’alon,” Netanyahu said, referring to members of central committee member Moshe Feiglin’s “Jewish Leadership” movement.
“They tell us that we don’t know how to safeguard Jerusalem. The whole world is aware of how we maintain Jerusalem,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu pulled a headline-grabbing rabbit out of his hat during the evening rally when he announced that he would fly to Egypt next week to meet with President Hosni Mubarak in the hopes of jump-starting peace talks with the Palestinian Authority soon.
Netanyahu has filled his schedule for Wednesday as well with a series of political rallies, in the hopes of securing the two-thirds majority that he needs to change the party constitution and delay the vote for key positions in the Likud central committee.
The last time an election for party offices was held was in 2002, before Feiglin’s movement gained momentum in the party, led by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. In that vote, top party positions went to members now considered key Netanyahu allies, including Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon.
But in the ensuing years, Feiglin and his supporters have gainedstrength in the party, and Netanyahu supporters fear that any electionfor the central committee will result in stronger representation of thekippa-wearing, bearded ranks of Jewish Leadership. Some Likud MKs,including coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin and Danny Danon, have voicedsupport for “opening the ranks” of the party to reflect the newdemographic.
Netanyahu’s camp, however, believes that it only stands to lose fromsuch a move. And the religious right-wing of the party is not the onlychallenge facing Netanyahu during the likely fractious centralcommittee meeting scheduled for Thursday. Some central committeemembers have hinted that they have scores to settle with Netanyahu andwill attempt to regain some of the power that was stripped from thecentral committee in 2006, when the committee acceded to Netanyahu’srequest that it relinquish their monopoly over party primaries.