Netanyahu a Shoo-in for Likud Primaries

Just days before the Likud party primaries, MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a commanding lead over his main rival, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and is almost a certain victor, according to a recent poll.

Netanyahu enjoys the support of 40 percent of Likud members, according to the Haaretz-Channel 10 News poll carried out on Tuesday evening by Dialog and monitored by Prof. Camille Fuchs.

The only thing that could prevent a Netanyahu victory in the first round of voting on Monday is very low turnout or very poor organization in the Netanyahu camp, matched by a high turnout of Shalom supporters and excellent voting-day organization.

According to the poll, Shalom has the support of only 23 percent of party members, followed by MK Moshe Feiglin with 9 percent and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz with 2 percent.

If a winner is not determined in Monday's vote, a second round will be held on December 26, in which Netanyahu is expected to defeat Shalom by a margin of 46 percent to 29 percent, after most of Feiglin's supporters put their weight behind Netanyahu.

Likud sources unaffiliated with a particular camp were surprised by the wide margin indicated by the poll, saying the feeling in Likud branches recently has been that Shalom is gaining momentum, especially after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz defected to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party. Mofaz's supporters are expected to vote for Shalom.

The survey was carried out among a representative sample of more than 600 Likud members.

The expected turnout for the primary, based on respondents' statements, is 50 percent, but party officials fear it will be even lower. If their fears are borne out, it will help the extreme-right candidate Feiglin, whose supporters are expected to vote in large numbers.

According to the survey, there is a sharp division between right-wing Likud supporters of Netanyahu and Feiglin, and supporters of Shalom - most of whom were potential supporters of Sharon until a month ago.

When asked who is responsible for the party's troubles - Sharon and the Gaza disengagement, or Netanyahu and the "Likud rebels" - the vast majority of Netanyahu-Feiglin supporters blamed Sharon, while Shalom's camp pointed the finger at Netanyahu. Overall, 49 percent of Likud members polled blamed Sharon.