Analysis / Healthy Logic Prevails

Ariel Sharon was not the only winner in the Likud Central Committee last night. Healthy logic, which, at the last minute, prevented the party in power from decapitating itself, also won, along with the desire to rule, and the interests of party branch heads who want to be elected to the next Knesset. The inoperative microphone won, and so did the theory of "never before:" Never before has a prime minister been ousted by his own party.

On the way, without noticing, the Likud became a more pragmatic, more moderate party, more connected to the desires of most of its voters.

The central committee, with all of its thuggery and raucousness, decided not to oust the prime minister, and not to bring forward the primaries just because somebody felt like doing so. The primaries, for now, remain scheduled for their original date - October-November 2006, or June 2006, at the very earliest.

As for the prime minister himself, if he was pleased yesterday, it was only because Benjamin Netanyahu was humiliated. Sharon knows full well that last night's victory does not remove the roadblocks from his path in the Likud. It is still a party in strife; it is hard to imagine Sharon and Uzi Landau, Tzipi Livni and Reuven Rivlin, Ehud Olmert and Yisrael Katz, moving ahead together.

The loss is entirely Netanyahu's. None of Sharon's "crimes" - the disengagement, the spit in the face of the rank-and-file after the referendum, ignoring the central committee, Omri's damage, and his threats to leave the party - helped Netanyahu to win.

Anyone else would have announced his departure. But not Netanyahu. He estimates his chances in the primaries as better than Sharon's, although he concedes that failure brings failure and success brings success.

In the coming weeks, everyone will be looking toward the party members. If the worm there has also turned in Sharon's favor, it is not impossible that he will choose to stand once again against Bibi. For that to happen, Sharon has to be convinced that he has a solid chance of winning. A loss will send him back to Sycamore Ranch.

The result yesterday proves that many of Netanyahu's most ardent supporters voted against him this time because they did not find a logical reason to cut short the Likud's rule.

And another reason for last night's win: Even those who opposed disengagement and Sharon do not see Netanyahu as his successor. They remember his humiliating loss to Ehud Barak, the bolting of the Likud princes, and the destruction of the party.

What will happen now? Netanyahu will certainly ask his advisor, Yehiel Leiter, politely but firmly, to leave. Leiter, a settler from Eli, is responsible for everything bad that has happened to Netanyahu in the past year.

The other three losers last night were Ministers Katz, Limor Livnat and Dan Naveh. In a proper government, the three would resign the day after they supported the ousting of the prime minister under whom they serve. But don't worry, they will not resign. Naveh will disappear, Katz will explain that the majority rules, and Livnat will take the interviewer to task for asking why she has not resigned.

And what of the winners - Sharon and his camp, Olmert, Livni, Gideon Ezra and Abraham Hirchson? The big winner is Silvan Shalom, who worked with all his might for Sharon, along with Tzachi Hanegbi. With such close results, it is clear that without these darlings of the central committee, Sharon would not have had his victory.