Sharon walks out of Likud meeting on early primaries

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon walked out of a Likud Central Committee meeting Sunday evening when opponents poured water on the microphone system as he was about to make his speech. The committee members convened at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to debate a proposal to advance the date of the Likud leadership primaries, a move generally seen as favoring Sharon rival MK Benjamin Netanyahu. The committee will vote on the issue Monday. Netanyahu and MK Uzi Landau, another contender for the chairmanship, met with their followers before the meeting and asked them not to heckle Sharon during his speech to the committee. However, Netanyahu supporters loudly disrupted other speeches opposing early primaries, and Sharon left the meeting before he could make his speech. Netanyahu, meanwhile, told party central committee members Sunday night that whoever wants to leave the party should do so now. The comments appeared to be a reference to Sharon, whose aides have insinuated in recent weeks that he may retire from the Likud and form a new party should the motion to hold early primaries be approved. Netanyahu also urged central committee members to vote in favor of moving up the date of the party primaries to show they are not members of a left-wing party. „We’re not Meretz, we’re not left of Meretz – we’re the Likud,” Netanyahu said. „Are we a democratic movement or the movement of one person who ignores all our decisions?” he asked. „The Likud does not belong to me and it does not belong to you, Arik. We belong to the Likud.” Landau, leader of the anti-disengagement Likud rebels and another contender for the party chairmanship, called on central committee members to vote in favor of advancing the date of the party primaries and said the party could not lose more ground than it already had under Sharon. Landau rejected the argument that a vote for early elections would destroy the party. „Whoever says the Likud is in power is deceiving himself,” he said. „The Likud is not in power because all its basic positions have been violated.” Education Minister Limor Livnat also said she favors advancing the date of the party primaries and called on Sharon to encourage settlement construction. „We must now preserve settlement in Judea, Samaria and the Golan,” in addition to building in and around Jerusalem, she said. „The permit is in your hand,” Livnat said in remarks directed to Sharon. „Tell them to begin construction.” She tipped her hand a few hours before the central committee was set to meet, rejecting suggestions that moving up the primaries would help Netanyahu in his bid to wrest the party chairmanship from Sharon. „Holding early primaries is a technical matter, not an ousting,” she told Israel Radio. „A Likud Central Committee decision must be made, even if it contravenes the interests of some people in the party,” Livnat said. Livnat said her decision followed attempts to reach a compromise acceptable by both candidates on a later date for primaries, but said once her attempts failed, she saw no choice but to support the motion to hold early primaries. Ministers Silvan Shalom, Meir Sheetrit and Tzipi Livni spoke against moving up the primaries. Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit warned Likud Central Committee members Sunday that a vote for early primaries could bring about a left-wing government takeover. „I have never before seen a party prepared to give up on its ruling power with such joy and jump into the abyss,” Sheetrit said. „I’m telling you: Be careful. Those who support advancing the primaries are going to destroy the Likud.” „The left could rise to power and give up the entire Land of Israel,” he said amid heckling. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni spoke against advancing the elections so the Likud could go on leading the country. However, she said, „For political reasons that are not relevant, it appears that we won’t be able to be together. That way is possible only if you vote against advancing the primaries.” BPI-info