Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to move up the primaries for the Likud chairmanship to January 31, 2012, Ynet reported on Sunday, a move that is viewed as an attempt to preserve hold on party while his political public standing is still strong.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who has declared that he would run for party chairmanship, said he would take legal action against the initiative.
Netanyahu, who has updated the Likud ministers on his decision, estimates that general elections for the Knesset and the premiership will be held in two years' time, and by moving up the Likud vote he is trying to solidify his strong position within the party and win re-election as the party's leader in case general elections are also moved up.
According to the Likud's constitution, the party's internal elections are supposed to be held six months ahead of balloting for the Knesset. Likud sources said the move would also save the party NIS 1 million ($270,000).
"By moving up the vote Netanyahu is actually saying that he is not afraid of general elections, while (Opposition leader Tzipi) Livni is delaying the (Kadima) primaries and is avoiding elections. He wants to beat everyone to the punch and avoid holding primaries before general elections," a senior Likud official said.
By moving up the primaries Netanyahu is pulling the rug from under the feet of his potential rivals, headed by Shalom. Public opinion polls show that the PM's political situation is good and that Likud will likely form the next government. Netanyahu wants to take advantage of this momentum – which is also the result of the Gilad Shalit deal. The premier also believes that Israel needs political stability ahead of a possible decision on how to respond to Iran's nuclear program.