Netanyahu, Feiglin Prepare for Face-off

The battle between Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and party strongman Moshe Feiglin is expected to reach fever pitch today, only one day ahead of the primary election for the faction's Knesset list.

Netanyahu has come out strongly against the candidacy of the radical rightwing activist because of the power he wields within the party, and fears that his association with Likud may damage the new centrist image its leader is trying to present to the public.

According to some estimates, Feiglin is supported by at least 7,000 well-organized party members and has a good chance of being elected a spot on the list somewhere between the 10th and 20th place. Feiglin's camp is known as the Jewish Leadership faction with the slogan: "We need a Feiglin in the Knesset." Many other Likud candidates have sought the support of Feiglin and his supporters, which are disciplined and vote en bloc, offering their support for his candidacy in return.

Feiglin infuriated Netanyahu during the Likud's last conference when he lambasted his own party as being "identical to Kadima," declaring that he will be voted to the 10th place on the party list in the primary.

Netanyahu decided to ignore the advice of his aides and speak out against Feiglin, threatening candidates that anyone who strikes a deal with the rightist will not be given a ministerial position.

Another measure taken by the Likud leader is to increase the number of participants in the primary election, hoping that a higher turnout will contain the influence of Feiglin's camp. In a bid to increase voter turnout, Netanyahu has ordered polls to remain open until 11 P.M. and okayed computerized voting stations throughout the country.

Still, polls carried out on behalf of the Likud last week showed Feiglin's association with the party did not deliver a fatal blow to its standing. Data shows Feiglin may cost the party between three to five Knesset seats but that it was still firmly ahead of Kadima, which is expected to be the second largest faction in the Knesset. Feiglin is hoping that his protege, Sagiv Asulin, will also secure a high place on the party list.

The Jewish Leadership movement in the Likud party originated in the Zo Artzeinu (Our Country) party that operated between 1994 and 1996, an extremist party opposed to the Oslo Accords. Feiglin was arrested for civil disobedience and indicted for incitement against the state. He was convicted and jailed for six months.

Between 1996 and 2000, his movement decided to join the Likud. In 2001 Feiglin and his supporters backed Ehud Olmert in the primary election. Olmert would later join then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to form Kadima. Moreover, the former Feiglin benefactor has recently spoken out in favor or partitioning Jerusalem in order to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Feiglin's camp led the campaign within the Likud against the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Feiglin ran for Likud leadership in 2003 and again in 2005. He came closest to winning the primary election for party leader in 2007, when 23 percent of the party members cast their vote for him.