Benjamin Netanyahu - Emil Salman - 23.11.2011
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, Nov. 23, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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For the second time in four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled the rug under fellow contenders for the leadership of the Likud party, namely, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. That was accomplished by scheduling the party primaries earlier than anticipated, January 31, 2012, in less than two months, in a move characterized by many as a show of underhanded opportunism.

Encouraged by the flattering polls predicting a glowing victory both within the Likud party and from without, Netanyahu decided to eliminate the nuisance of party primaries.

After the Labor party elected Shelly Yachimovich, and following the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, Netanyahu feels he is in prime condition for a fight. In the realm of local politics (as opposed to the international arena) Netanyahu never misses an opportunity.

He identified January 31, 2012, as a golden opportunity to reaffirm his leadership. For him, this will be a walk in the park. With this surprising move, Netanyahu isn’t just planning to win; he is planning to enjoy himself, at the expense of his long-time rival, Shalom.

In 2007, while the Likud was still in the opposition, Shalom relentlessly threatened to compete against Netanyahu, who had enough, and suddenly announced that primaries will be held the summer of that year.

Shalom was left unready, without the machinery needed to compete, or the time to prepare. He was forced to drop out of the race, alleging Netanyahu was running the party like "the Syrian Ba’ath Party."

Netanyahu has yet to forgive Shalom for that saying. One wonders what Shalom will say today, with the Ba’ath party not what it used to be. Haaretz reporter Ophir Bar-Zohar reported that Likud members close to Shalom said he plans to fight Netanyahu’s decision through legal means.

Moshe Feiglin, the right-wing extremist, may be Netanyahu’s main challenger. If so, he will attract the votes of the Likud’s dissenting members, but on the day after primaries this will not matter.

The decision will affect Tzipi Livni, chairperson of the Kadima party, who last week postponed the primaries in her party to an unknown date. Now, with the Labor party already after their primaries, and with the Likud soon choosing its leader, the pressure on her to hold the primaries is expected to grow. She will likely be forced to give in.

Read this article in Hebrew: הקדמת הפריימריז בליכוד: נתניהו לא סולח לסילבן