Please be seated, the movement chairman is already here, Likud Director General Arik Barami announced last night. Eyes instinctively sought another Arik. But emerging from backstage as the jingle played were Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by Silvan Shalom - each passing by the MKs and ministers like soccer players taking to the field. Netanyahu walked to the end of the row. Shalom, now Likud's official No. 2, stopped by Dan Naveh, perhaps because standing next to him was Limor Livnat, who kept her face frozen throughout the event.
Netanyahu's inauguration ceremony was meticulously planned. Building 10 at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds magically shrank. The walls were pushed to the center of the hall, making everything appear more compact. All 600 seats were occupied - not necessarily by central committee members, but when in tough times, you don't sweat the small stuff.
TV cameras were allowed in only after the hall was suitably full. The slogan above the stage screamed: "The Likud is renewing itself," and the pictures of Begin and Jabotinsky had never been bigger.
Silvan tried to shake Netanyahu's hand, but wound up having it hoisted powerfully in the air. The crowd cheered: "Heide Bibi, Heide Silvan!" More precisely, it wasn't "the crowd" that cheered, but some 15 teenage boys who have that job at Likud events.
Yesterday's convention was the most relaxed and civilized the central committee has known in recent years. If anyone was in need of further proof that Sharon was not part of Likud, and Likud was not part of Sharon - he got it yesterday. Netanyahu wasn't heckled even once . The Feiglinites who were there kept quiet. Committee members are backing Netanyahu, for good or bad. He's their leader, and they're sticking with him.
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