In Likud Primaries, Everything Is Personal

"I would love for Silvan to win," confessed one of Benjamin Netanyahu's supporters last night. When asked why, he responded: "Just to see Limor Livnat's facial expression. For that it's worth it for me that Bibi loses."

While the Netanyahu supporter wasn't totally serious, his comment is a fair reflection of the face of the Likud and the character of its primaries, which take place today.

Everything is personal. Everything is below the belt. The more days pass, the lower the insults. Silvan will divide Jerusalem, Netanyahu said. Bibi will fly to New York, Shalom charged. If Silvan wins, warned Netanyahu, we'll become a branch of Kadima. If Bibi wins, cautioned Shalom, we'll become a branch of the Yesha Council of settlements.

So many emotions, so few seats. Only a month ago, the Likud was a bank of Knesset seats. Today, they're arguing over whose branch the party will become.

Netanyahu has run for Likud chairman three times in the past five years. In 2001, as Ehud Barak's rule drew to a close, Netanyahu had the Likud at his feet, but asked for general elections. When he didn't get what he wanted, he gave up. That was his biggest mistake, from which he has not recovered to this day. In 2002 he ran against a sitting prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and lost. Now, he and Silvan Shalom are fighting for the scraps from Sharon's laden table.

Netanyahu cannot allow himself an additional loss - it will be one too many. Over the weekend, he or one of his supporters panicked - perhaps justifiably, perhaps not - and launched a threat into the air: "If Bibi loses, he'll split the Likud, join Benny Elon and Avigdor Lieberman and create a right-wing alignment." This threat, which Netanyahu renounced, entails three possible outcomes: the undecided voters will be alarmed by another rift and vote for Bibi; the undecided voters will get angry at the candidate making the threats and vote for Shalom; or Netanyahu's supporters who interpret the threat as an admission of defeat will prefer to go with the winner, and vote for Shalom.

MKs who are not identified with any camp said last night that "the field" is mad at Bibi. On Saturday, "the field" was mad at Shalom because his supporters threatened to desert the Likud if Netanyahu wins. On Friday "the field," according to the same reports, was not mad at anyone. It was simply depressed. Likud officials say it's a close race, but it's hard to know.

To a large extent, the Likud primaries are about Netanyahu's character and behavior. People love him or hate him. Some see him as the man who destroyed the movement, who kicked Sharon out of the party and whose financial policies seriously harmed hundreds of thousands of families. And others see him as the only person who can stand up against Sharon and offer an alternative policy to that of the prophet of the disengagement, and the disengagements still to come.