91% of Likud Central Committee members vote in party primaries

Some 91% of Likud Central Committee members voted in Thursday’s primaries to determine the party’s Knesset list. According to the results, following Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom, who was secured the second slot, the top slots on the list will be filled by MKs Moshe Kahlon, Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa’ar, Michael Eitan, Reuven Rivlin, Danny Naveh and Yuval Steinitz. Likud primaries were held at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv amid polls that give Likud 15 seats at best in the upcoming March 28 elections. The fight over a viable slot on the list was fierce, even for incumbents. Ahead of the vote, Naveh called on the Likud Central Committee to avoid blacklisting Likud members in the polls. Political dealing continued late into Wednesday night, as candidates tried to secure the support of various groups within the Central Committee and lists of recommended candidates were circulated among party branches. MKs and ministers who moved from Likud to Kadima have also been busy, via aides and advisers, “taking care” of friends left behind. Associates of former MK Omri Sharon who remained in the Likud were among the political dealing Wednesday, meeting at a Petah Tikvah cafe to choose the seven ‘rebels’ to comprise a “hit list” for Knesset, as a punishment to the Likud for having brought a rift to the party. If the results of the elections emerge as expected, MKs Gideon Sa’ar, Uzi Landau, Michael Eitan and Gilad Arden will be selected to top the Knesset list, though it is unclear whether Landau or Sa’ar will be chosen to occupy the No. 1 spot. Three of four Likud ministers submitted their letters of resignation from government Thursday. Naveh, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz presented their letters after initially refusing Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to resign by the start of the Likud Central Committee vote on the party’s list of Knesset candidates. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will submit his letter of resignation dierctly to the government on Sunday. Shalom caves in to Netanyahu, agrees to quit cabinet Friday During a reconciliatory meeting between Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, the two agreed that Shalom would resign from the government on Friday and would not attend the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. On Wednesday, Shalom refused Netanyahu’s demand that Likud ministers resign from the cabinet on Thursday, and announced that he would do so on Sunday. Netanyahu had told Likud ministers to submit their resignations by 10 A.M. Thursday, thereby coinciding with the start of the Likud Central Committee vote on the party’s list of Knesset candidates. Three of the four Likud ministers did hand in letters of resignation Thursday, but Shalom refused, saying that he would do so on Sunday. Naveh, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz presented their resignations later Thursday morning. Shalom said he intends to submit his resignation directly to the government on Sunday morning. Associates of Netanyahu earlier Thursday accused Shalom of fomenting the crisis. Livnat told Israel Radio that after initial reservations, the ministers decided to agree to Netanyahu’s request in light of the Likud Central Committee vote. “Netanyahu was resolved on this, so I decided I would act according to the decision of the Likud chairman, and I knew the other ministers would do the same,” Livnat said. “Each of us is contending for a place on the Knesset list… and we wanted this to be done in an appropriate way.” Netanyahu announced he would take the party out of the coalition following his election as leader last month. The move was delayed until now, however, due to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke. The four ministers were initially taken by surprise by Netanyahu’s move. The party leader did not discuss the decision with them, and their associates said that there had been discussion, by telephone, of possibly convening the Likud Central Committee to decide on the matter. Responding to Netanyahu’s ultimatum, Shalom’s aide Alon Ro’i told Israel Radio on Thursday that “with all due respect Netanyahu cannot boss us around.” “Likud ministers are not the chairman’s employees, so no one is giving out orders to anyone else,” he said. Ro’i said that while Shalom backed the decision to quit the government, the manner in which Netanyahu chose to order the ministers to resign was unacceptable. “There is no need to create a situation whereby people receive a phone call in the middle of the night as they prepare for elections the next day,” the adviser said. Other associates of the ministers also attacked the move, saying Netanyahu acted out of self-interest because he wanted to be made leader of the opposition. After Netanyahu’s election as party leader, the four ministers opposed resigning from the government on the grounds that the Likud ought to head into the elections from a leadership position. For this reason Netanyahu took Wednesday: He suspects his ability to withstand them will decrease substantially after the Likud’s Knesset list is chosen Thursday, so moved to entrap them. Netanyahu’s office said Kadima is taking steps that translate into the start of the division of Jerusalem, and that Likud cannot offer an alternative to the government while it is part of it and abides by its policies. Sources close to Netanyahu said Wednesday that it is obvious to everyone that the political system has retreated into campaign mode, spurred on by “impatient” Kadima people. Kadima was quick to attack Netanyahu. Senior party officials said that the fast one Netanyahu pulled on the Likud ministers showed that Netanyahu can’t handle pressure. If the ministers indeed resign, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have to appoint replacements, with Shimon Peres as a possible candidate for foreign minister.