Israel’s Likud party is wracked by tensions which threaten to weaken it further ahead of a parliamentary poll in March. Binyamin Netanyahu, who took over the leadership after Ariel Sharon walked out last year, is under fire for what is perceived as heavy-handed treatment of colleagues.
He insisted that four cabinet ministers – including foreign minister Silvan Shalom – resign from the government to allow Likud to concentrate on its election campaign and build itself as an alternative to Sharon’s new party, Kadima. Three of the ministers have now resigned, but all initially resisted Netanyahu’s deadline, saying they would go at a time of their own choosing. The problems highlight what critics call Netanyahu’s authoritarian personality and Likud’s fractiousness. Opinion polls suggest it will slide to third place in the elections behind Kadima and Labour. Unless Ariel Sharon recovers, Kadima deputy leader Ehud Olmert is set to take the party to a landslide victory, winning up to 45 seats, according to opinion polls. It is not yet clear what role veteran peacemaker Shimon Peres will play. He has reportedly been offered any portfolio he wants by Olmert and observers say the foreign ministry is the obvious option.