Some Likud officials are seeking a compromise that allows delegates in the Likud convention to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but setting conditions for a unity government with labor, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Tuesday.

“We must concentrate our efforts now in finding common ground that would allow an agreed-upon resolution,” Hanegbi said.

“None of us – including those, like me who are determined opponents of uprooting settlements and the disengagement initiative – will gain anything from weakening the Likud.” He added.

Likud rebels expressed confidence that the convention will oppose for labor to join the ruling coalition, demanded Sharon to abide to the voting results, but added that they were open for a compromise.

“We are always in favor of compromise and domestic peace, certainly we don’t want a war within the Likud, We want neither to embarrass, nor injure, nor do anything that would hurt the Likud.” said a Likud rebels’ leader Michael Ratzon. “

“At the same time, this depends entirely on the prime minister. He could have prevented this, and he must know how to accept democratic decisions. Even he is not above democracy.” He added.

Sharon to Face a Secret Ballot at Likud Convention

Israeli agriculture minister and Likud convention President Yisrael Katz ruled Monday that enough signatures of delegates had been collected to force a secret ballot in the Wednesday Likud convention.

The Likud central committee will convene Wednesday in Tel-Aviv upon the request of Likud rebels, who called delegates to oppose Sharon’s attempts to include labor in the government.

Katz ruling presents a major setback to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to rally support inside the Likud hardliners’ strong hold.

The struggle between the most popular ever prime minister and the powerful Likud central committee, which enjoys the power of choosing the party Knesset candidates, is heated considerably two days ahead of the convention.

Sharon’s supporters are working hard to convince delegates to support Sharon’s position.

Sharon’s aids held in the past few days meetings with hundreds of central committee members and Likud branches heads, openly accused opponents with intending to humiliate the Prime Minister, and are organizing buses to bring supporters to the convention.

Likud rebels, headed by Minister Uzi Landau, launched a home to home campaign, paying visits to every Likud central committee member.

Landau sent a personal letter to each Likud delegate warning against the plans to invite Labor to join the governmental coalition.

Sharon’s aids repeatedly warned that if the prime minister’s proposal is voted out, early elections would become inevitable.

‘Nobody needs elections, definitely not on the personal level of the MKs and not on the public level, what will we say if can’t succeed with 40 MKs?’ said MK Omri Sharon.

Even when the voting is not binding to Sharon, the prime minister decided to cancel his Wednesday meeting with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and prepare for the Likud convention.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, afraid of losing the foreign ministry portfolio to the Labor Party’s Shimon Peres, is aligned with Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau.

Unexpectedly, in Sunday evening interview with Israeli TV channel 2, Education Minister Limor Livnat, a known Likud hardliner, lashed out at Sharon’s opponents, accusing them with being motivated by personal interests.

Livnat expressed concern over a convention where ‘we’ll see a party headed for suicide on a live broadcast.’

For the time being, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains on the sidelines.

Sharon can’t tolerate another humiliating defeat after his disengagement was voted out with a considerable majority in the Likud party referendum two months ago.

Once more, the position of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters will be crucial to the voting results. Netanyahu, who earlier expressed strong opposition to Labor joining the cabinet, is still sitting at the wall watching.

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