Following the Likud’s internal court decision to convene the party central committee to discuss labor joining the cabinet, Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon began a campaign to convince delegates to oppose the call by Likud “rebels” for a vote on the issue.

The Likud central committee, which is due to convene next Wednesday, is a stronghold of Likud hardliners.

Sharon accepted the court ruling, affirming that he would listen and respond to arguments, but emphasized that approving a new coalition partner is in the hands of the Knesset, not the party central committee.

Sharon’s son MK Omri Sharon started to call key Likud activists and branch chiefs on Tuesday asking them to work hard to persuade delegates to oppose the “opposition” in order not to embarrass the prime minister.

Sharon supporters are planning an emergency session on Wednesday. On Thursday, Sharon is expected to meet with party branch leaders in Tel-Aviv.

Sharon aids believe that if the prime minister loses the vote next Wednesday, it could sour his efforts to bring labor on board, which he considers necessary to implement the disengagement plan.

Sharon people are racing against Likud hardliners, who met Tuesday in Tel Aviv and decided to use the same strategy which won them the latest Likud referendum.

Likud hardliners plan to reach every one of the 3000 allegeable voters.

While Likud-Labor coalition talks are at a standstill over serious differences on the issue of the 2005 state budget, informal talks have continued to try and find a compromise that allows Labor a say without delaying the Sunday cabinet vote on the issue.

Observers noted that even as coalition talks are halted, Labor MK’s already started lobbying the party central committee members, which will elect the party ministers.