Likud Mulls New Forum to Prevent Split in Party

Coalition chair Gideon Sa'ar and MK Michael Eitan will present the Likud Knesset faction tomorrow a document designed to resolve the crisis threatening to split the party.

The mediators propose establishing a negotiating forum for resolving disagreements within the Likud. The projected forum would include Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his deputy Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and MKs Benjamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau (leader of the "rebels") and Sa'ar.

It is not clear yet whether voting would be included in this forum. Sharon's associates said last night that they are studying the document.

Sa'ar and Eitan said their document was formulated following talks with Sharon, Netanyahu, Landau and others in the Likud faction. It details the authority of the faction and the nature of the relationship between the faction and the government, based on the Likud constitution and the Likud faction's commitment in the coalition agreements to support the government.

The authors believe that approval of this document would make it possible to push through Olmert's appointment as finance minister, along with the appointments of Likud MKs Roni Bar-On and Ze'ev Boim to ministerial posts. The Knesset is slated to vote on the appointments tomorrow evening.

Sa'ar and Eitan hope they can obtain the faction's approval of their document in time for the plenum vote. Efforts continued over the weekend to muster a parliamentary majority to approve the appointments. Most of the lobbying came from the candidates themselves, whereas Sharon's people stressed that they are not going out of their way in this matter. As of last night, the necessary majority had not been assured.

Several rebel MKs warned over the weekend that they doubt they will support Olmert's appointment as permanent finance minister following his statement that "the Oslo process led to the beginning of the Israeli public's process of sobering up." Michael Ratzon, Yuli Edelstein and Ayoub Kara each expressed dismay that a Likud member could see anything positive in the Oslo Accords.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said yesterday that the vote on approving the appointments might be postponed for several days, and might be split into separate votes - one on the appointment of Olmert as finance minister, and of Labor's Matan Vilnai as science and technology minister; the other on appointing Roni Bar-On as minister of industry, trade and employment and Boim as minister of immigrant absorption.

Sharon associates said last night that the prime minister is still determined to bring all four new appointments for approval "as a package."