Netanyahu stepping up his anti-Sharon campaigning

"The people in the party who have been hiding their feelings of dissatisfaction with the way Sharon has handled economic, diplomatic, and security issues will no longer have to hide."

Katz accused Sharon of conducting underhanded maneuvers to try to hold on to the party chairmanship.

The Likud advertised a raise in party dues earlier in the week, a move Sharon's office said is long overdue, but Katz said is intended to replace less affluent Likud voters with former Labor Party voters contacted by Sharon.

"With Sharon intensifying his activities, we have no choice but to react," Netanyahu bureau chief Shlomo Filber said, explaining Wednesday's rally.

"We are not on the offensive. We are merely responding to Sharon who is trying to block Netanyahu at any price."

Filber said Netanyahu is reserving his true show of strength for the next meeting of the party's central committee, scheduled for May 14.

Katz intends to raise a motion at the meeting to hold an election for party chairman in November and elect a new party council only after the next general election.

One issue Netanyahu is expected to raise frequently before the meeting is Sharon's endorsement of a Palestinian state.

The former prime minister said in an interview Sunday that such a state would result in Karine B, C, and D, a play on the seized Palestinian weapon-smuggling ship the Karine A.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu's office said the former prime minister would not accept an invitation to be the main speaker at the anti-Palestinian state, anti-Sharon demonstration.

Moshe Shahar, a Netanyahu supporter who planned the demonstration, is one of the claimants in a case against Sharon heard by the Likud's internal court Tuesday.

Shahar and other central committee members are trying to force Sharon to convene the committee to discuss the Palestinian state issue.

The court is expected to announce its decision next week, but Shahar said he seriously doubts it will rule in his favor.

In that case, lawyers representing the hundreds of Likud activists who signed an anti-Palestinian state petition will take the case to Tel Aviv District Court, where Shahar warns, "All the dirty laundry in the party would come out."