In Bid to Put out Likud Fires, Netanyahu Offers a Referendum

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy putting out fires.

In the latest bid to smooth over differences among Likud Party members after last month’s stormy party convention, Netanyahu asked the party secretariat to prepare a referendum in January on whether party primaries should be held to determine the party’s slate of Knesset candidates in the next elections.

The outcome of the poll among the 212,000 registered Likud members will be presented to the Likud Central Committee, which will make a final decision on how the slate of party leaders will be filled.

Netanyahu promised the referendum last month amid an uproar among party rebels over a vote at the party convention in which participants voted to cancel the primaries and return selection of the Likud leadership to the party’s Central Committee.

Senior Likud ministers and Knesset members claimed the move would return the Likud to the days of back-room dealing and party patronage.

They accused the former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Avigdor Lieberman, of being behind the initiative to cancel the primaries.

They said Lieberman engineered the move in order to head off any challenges to Netanyahu by giving the reins of influence to the Central Committee, currently filled by Netanyahu supporters.

In the midst of the controversy, Lieberman resigned Nov. 23 from his post as director-general, saying he wanted to pursue business interests.

But it was widely believed that he intended to devote his time to girding support for Netanyahu within Likud, an activity he was officially prevented from doing because of his position as a civil servant.

Despite Lieberman’s resignation, ill will remained.

Last week, Science Minister Michael Eitan resigned from a committee created to consider the complaints of improper proceedings at the party convention.

Eitan — who had been one of the more vocal senior Likud members who accused Lieberman of stirring up the current party turmoil and demanded his resignation — cited challenges to his membership on the committee as his reason for leaving.

The rest of the inquiry committee followed Eitan’s suit, quitting when the panel convened for its first meeting.

Netanyahu this week asked the Likud’s Party court to appoint a new committee to look into the complaints.

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