Netanyahu to Warn Candidates: I Will Steer This Party Alone

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu has called together his party's top 40 Knesset candidates for an address today in Tel Aviv in which he is expected to outline a zero-tolerance policy to "mutinies and disturbances" in the 18th Knesset.

In his speech at Metzudat Ze'ev, Likud's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu will tell the runner-ups that he, and only he, will "navigate" the party.

The speech will come just days after the radical camp within Likud - led by Moshe Feiglin - reaped substantial achievements in the party's primary election which determined the seniority order within Likud ahead of the general election scheduled for February 10, 2009. Polls predict Likud will win the election with approximately 30 seats.

Netanyahu's goal in delivering the speech appears two-fold. First, the speech is probably designed to assure potential voters that Likud has not been, and will not be, hijacked by the radical camp - as some politicians, especially from the left, have warned.

After the primary election's results became known on Tuesday morning, prominent members of Kadima and Labor alleged Netanyahu's party had become an extreme rightist entity and that Netanyahu will have trouble controlling party members.

In keeping with his desire to counter these claims, in his speech Netanyahu may voice moderate views concerning the peace process. Likud's election campaign will attempt to promote this impression by displaying photographs of Netanyahu standing next to some of Likud's old guard.

However, the campaign's managers and Netanyahu's staff are still concerned that Feiglin's election into Likud's 20th slot - which almost certainly guarantees his entry into the Knesset - will have a negative effect on Likud's ability to attract voters.

These concerns prevail despite a Haaretz-Dialog poll that shows Likud to be gaining strength among voters despite Fieglin's achievement. The poll, conducted on Tuesday under the supervision of Tel Aviv University statistics professor Camil Fuchs, found that if the general election were held today, Likud would win 36 seats, Kadima would place second with 27 seats, and Labor would trail behind with 12.

As Likud's campaign strategists prepare damage-control schemes to deal with Feiglin and his supporters, they are probably hoping that Kadima's primary election - scheduled for next Wednesday - will put candidates with problematic public images like Eli Aflalo and Ruhama Avraham Balila relatively high on the party list.

Within the Likud, the focus of attention seems to be the legal struggle that Netanyahu has launched against Feiglin, which is designed to shove Feiglin down to slot 30 or below based upon technical issues that pertain to the party's charter.

Former media adviser to Netanyahu, Ophir Akunis, has petitioned the Likud party's election council to advance the positions of regional representatives on Likud's Knesset line-up, a move that will likely deprive far-rightist Moshe Feiglin of a place in the next Knesset.

In his petition, Akunis cited the election of female candidates to slots higher than those reserved for them in the framework of the party's affirmative action clauses. This, he argues, means their reserved slots should go to another affirmative action group, the regional representatives.