Arik Ziv, Editor of the Likudnik Web Site, Will Bibi Lose Tomorrow?

Arik Ziv is the editor of the Likudnik Web site, the unofficial home site of the Likud party. He is considered an expert on what is happening in the corridors of the ruling party, which will be conducting an internal vote tomorrow regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to postpone the elections for the Likud convention by two years.

Arik Ziv, what will happen tomorrow? Will Netanyahu win or lose?

"According to the surveys, Netanyahu is going to win, but it's very hard to tell. You still don't see the enthusiasm in the field, the sharp atmosphere of for and against that brings people to the polls. For now, it's only on the margins of the party hacks and the activists. Among a broader swath of members, it doesn't exist. That's why there's so much pressure among the prime minister's associates, who know that the more people come to vote, the greater their chances of passing the proposal."

How many people have to show up by 10 P.M. tomorrow in order for Netanyahu to relax?

"If the number of voters approaches 2,000 out of about 2,500 Likud Central Committee members, he'll be in good shape."

Will his meetings from the past two days help him?

"Those meetings are a waste of time and energy. In similar situations, [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon would make sure to bring wave upon wave of central committee members to his home in the evening and to speak to them. The second thing that Sharon used to do was to call as many central committee members as possible. Bibi is now down to four or five major meetings, but that's at the last moment."

I assume that Netanyahu is also busy on the phone.

"Not enough. I'm not meeting activists from the second or third circle who say they've spoken with him. If he is making phone calls it's not in large numbers, and that's a mistake, because if a central committee member in the second or third circle gets a phone call from the prime minister telling him that he needs him, that's likely to have an effect."

What is the real reason Netanyahu is so eager to postpone the internal elections - because "this is not the time," as he says; because he is afraid of the strengthening of the "Feiglins," the ultra right-wing followers of Moshe Feiglin; or because he is interested in helping his close associates, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, keep their jobs as the head of the central committee and the head of the secretariat, respectively?

"The explanation 'this is not the time' is not serious. It's never the time. There is always some formative national event going on. As far as the other explanations are concerned, those two ministers definitely influenced the matter, but the main issue is the fear of that fiend - Feiglin.

"Ultimately, it's a groundless fear. Every time they feared Feiglin was about to take control of the system, it turned out the situation wasn't really so bad. The whole Feiglin scare tactic is more of a media ploy in order to get people to come out and vote. One of the ministers whose name you mentioned told me just this week: 'We're not afraid of the Feiglins at all, when the time comes we'll know what to do with them and how to handle them."

So why is Netanyahu so personally involved in this story? After all, if he loses he'll be disgraced.

"Sometimes when you start down a road, you have to go the whole way. There's no question that it's more convenient for Bibi not to have a convention now. If he doesn't have elections there's no commotion, there's no chaos. After all, after a convention is chosen you have to choose a central committee chairman and a secretariat chairman, and that foments energy within the movement. As a prime minister - he prefers quiet."

What will prevail - the personal interests of central committee members, or the consideration of obeying the prime minister in order not to embarrass him?

"It's totally mixed. After all, there's no ideological issue here. Netanyahu can win here, but take Beit Shemesh for example: They have a mayor from Shas who's trying to take over the Likud members. Clearly the Likudniks are interested in having elections now and quickly, in order to prevent the Shasnik mayor from stealing voters from them.

"Most of them are Netanyahu's people, but I don't know what they'll do at the polls when their house is on fire - although Yisrael Katz pressured them for days on end. They told him everything would be all right, but only so he'd leave them alone."

Are there ministers working against the prime minister?

"Almost none. Bibi pressured all of them so they would work with him. You see ministers who stick to his side and run with him and go from place to place with him. If that's supposed to be evidence of victory, then he has it. The question is whether it will be enough."

Even his rival Silvan Shalom is not working against him?

"If so, not in any significant way. I don't feel his influence in the field, but I have no doubt that if Bibi loses, Silvan will try to take advantage of the situation and say that it's thanks to him. In general, if it ends in a defeat for Netanyahu, it will happen only as a result of apathy on the part of central committee members and not because anyone worked against him. Apathy is what is working against Netanyahu. If he could turn the process into a personal confrontation, that would guarantee him a higher voter turnout."