Bibi flies in as his party falls into chaos

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The Independent Online
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives in London today, leaving his right-wing Likud in disarray. Friends and foes openly accused him of duplicity.

The communications minister, Limor Livnat, told delegates at a tumultuous party conference on Tuesday night: "The Likud is committing suicide.

Most damagingly for Mr Netanyahu, his national infrastructure minister, Ariel Sharon, disclosed that when the Prime Minister asked for his help in quelling a grassroots revolt, he replied: "I don't know whether to help your right hand or your left hand."

Israeli commentators speculated yesterday that the disenchantment shared by almost all his senior Likud colleagues might split the party

The immediate quarrel, as one television pundit put it, was not over principle or policy, but "who owns the shop". The issue in dispute was how the Likud selects its parliamentary candidates. After two days of anguished debate, the 3,000 conference delegates voted to abolish the American-style primaries under which candidates were chosen in 1996.

The change was opposed by all the Likud ministers and most of its serving MPs. They feared that reversion to selection by the party conference would concentrate too much power in Mr Netanyahu's hands. Most delegates, working- class branch bosses, owe their place to the Prime Minister. A nod and a wink would be enough for them to throw out anyone who did not toe the line.

Two weeks ago, Mr Netanyahu promised his rebellious ministers to postpone a decision, although he was widely believed to have orchestrated the demand to abolish primaries. At the conference on Monday, he was shouted down when he begged delegates to wait. On Tuesday, his lieutenants discreetly encouraged them to go ahead.

Ministers felt they had been deceived. One told the heavyweight Ha'aretz: "We have to start thinking about how to revive the Likud we once knew. This isn't a party. What happened here is more like the mafia."

Before leaving for London, Mr Netanyahu held out a hand of "peace and reconciliation". Addressing parliament on the second anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, he said: "No political difference justifies violence.

The far right is awash with conspiracy theories, suggesting that the Labour leader was the victim of his own Shin Bet security service. Some light will be shed in this murky corner today, when the government publishes a report on the activities of Avishai Raviv, a right-wing extremist who doubled as a Shin Bet informer. According to media leaks, Mr Raviv heard the murderer, Yigal Amir, discussing the need to kill the Prime Minister, but neglected to tell his handlers. The security men distrusted him, but kept him on because he was still their best source on the radical right. -