Sources: Netanyahu Preparing 'Alibi' for Defeat

Likud chair to ask the central committee to give up its prerogative of choosing the Knesset slate, and move to a system of open primaries.

Senior Likud officials, referring to an attempt by Benjamin Netanyahu to challenge the party's powerful central committee on the issue of who is to choose the party's Knesset list, said yesterday that Netanyahu appears to be preparing an "alibi" for himself ahead of losing in the upcoming elections.

Likud chair Netanyahu informed the party's branch heads yesterday that he plans to convene the central committee within two weeks and ask it to vote in favor of giving up their prerogative of choosing the Knesset slate and move to a system of open primaries, like in the Labor party. The officials cited the alibi motive because it is otherwise unclear why he would choose to antagonize party activists.

Netanyahu risks defeat in the central committee at the height of an election campaign, but he is determined to complete this move before election day because of polls he commissioned that show the Likud gaining up to six seats if this power is taken away from the central committee, which has a reputation for corruption.

Netanyahu has been talking to MKs and key players and has received the impression that most will support such a move. Former MK Dan Naveh announced his support and Netanyahu associates believe that his fellow former ministers, Limor Livnat, Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz, are also leaning that way.

The associates acknowledged this is a major gamble on Netanyahu's part, but a dramatic convening of the central committee before elections proves that Netanyahu is not all talk but is actually doing something to clean up the Likud. They are sure this will increase the public's faith in the Likud brand.

Netanyahu appears increasingly enamored of the move, in view of the fact that his party is continuing to falter in the polls despite the hopes pinned on its anti-Hamas campaign. Netanyahu is trying to persuade activists that Likud would be strengthened by this move, but is meeting with criticism.

"I feel bad about saying this, but the latest campaign also failed," one branch head said. "Each time Bibi promises that we're about to see an improvement in the polls - and that doesn't happen. Now he's found a magic solution."

Yoel Mongami of the Petah Tikva branch, a longtime Ariel Sharon supporter, said that anger at Netanyahu is so great that veteran field operatives are not enlisting to help with the campaign. "Bibi doesn't understand that right now he's the problem, not the central committee," he said.