Get Ye to the Polls!

The oddest Likud primary ever may be symbolized today by the ballot box set up in Eilat's Neptune Hotel - for the convenience of the vacationing masses of party members.

Why just Eilat? Why not place a ballot box at Ben-Gurion Airport by the duty-free shops? Or by the entrance to a vacation club in Turkey? Not that it matters - Moshe Feiglin has already won.

The man who in Ariel Sharon's days was seen as an outlandish wacko managed to plunge the Likud into a frenzy. Because of him, the ballot boxes will be open until nearly midnight (at first they even considered holding a two-day election). Benjamin Netanyahu, who usually cuts back on interviews as befitting a candidate for prime minister, has been scurrying from one television and radio station to another, giving interviews and pleading with party members: go vote!

Netanyahu brought this on himself when he decided to have these elections at this time, and when he pushed Silvan Shalom out of the race instead of locking him in. As usual with Bibi, nothing comes easily to him. Even when he is about to be reelected as the Likud's candidate for prime minister with a convincing majority of some 70 percent, it involves suffering, panic and great fears.

A low voter turnout today will boost Feiglin's strength far beyond his real support. If Feiglin gets 20 percent of the votes, the result could be portrayed as an embarrassing malfunction. If he gets 30 percent of the votes, it would brand the Likud as negative, reactionary, and delusional, which would play into the hands of its political rivals.

But this is not Netanyahu's main problem. What really worries him is that the Likud's Knesset members regard the "Feiglins" as a significant, organized faction that must be taken into account. In this case, the bunch of rebels - most of whom ended up outside the present Knesset - will raise its head. Likud Knesset candidates will begin to compete with each other for the most radical statements to curry favor with the Feiglin group as the Knesset election approaches. Incumbent MKs will propose right-wing legislation for the same reason.

This would go against Netanyahu's strategy of "centralizing" the Likud in readiness for general elections, to make the party attractive to the centrist voter. He can centralize all he likes, but with a rightist list as a liability, no one is going to buy his tainted goods.