Tel Aviv mayor reveals plan to displace the prime minister

JERUSALEM — Tel Aviv Mayor Ronni Milo Monday unveiled a plan to steal the Likud from beneath Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plan aims to leave the premier isolated without necessarily forcing a change in government, while assuring that the party, in its new form, would field a new candidate in the next elections.

Milo said that top Likud politicians are cooperating in his plan to get 12 Knesset members to split the Likud Knesset faction. Since the party's faction now numbers 22 MKs, the 12 would be entitled to the party's name and to the government funds allotted it. This would leave Netanyahu effectively out of the party and unable to run for premier again on its ticket.

Milo advised the public Monday to "expect great, very dramatic changes in the Israeli political scene very soon — within two to three weeks."

In a related development, sources close to the prime minister Monday night vehemently denied that Netanyahu has any intention of firing Communications Minister Limor Livnat. Livnat is rumored to be working with Milo and some around Netanyahu have been advising him for days to dump her. However, Netanyahu is wary of pushing Livnat even further into Milo's arms, sources said.

Milo stressed Monday that his plan is "not to crown [Labor leader Ehud] Barak as the new prime minister. We are not out to topple Netanyahu right now and to leave the government ripe for Labor's picking.

"We are out to make sure that in the next elections the Likud will no longer be under Netanyahu's command, that he will not lead it and that the Likud will, therefore, have a fighting chance at winning power again. We will not betray the Likud's cause; we will remove Netanyahu from the party."

Milo, who is not an MK, said that he has collaborators inside the Likud Knesset faction, though he refused to name them. Apart from Livnat, Likud pundits say that Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert is a likely member of Milo's group, as are the three declared Likud dissidents — Knesset member Ze'ev Begin, Dan Meridor and David Re'em.

o+6"Many of the veteran Likud MKs feel that the situation inside the party, as it evinced itself at the convention, is no longer tolerable. We all agree that the Likud leadership must be changed. The contacts now are under way, and will soon be made public," Milo promised.

There are other options also under consideration, he said, but "the one of recruiting 12 MKs is the preferred one. Other options would mean voting against the Likud in the Knesset and being left on the outside.

"In such an eventuality, Netanyahu may be brought down and new elections would be called. But he would again head the list, and lose the elections to Barak. In such a scenario, we would have lost on all counts."

Livnat and Olmert refused to comment. Science Minister Michael Eitan, one of Netanyahu's most outspoken critics in recent days, nixed the idea of Milo successfully deposing Netanyahu.