Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon walked out of a stormy meeting of his Likud party Sunday after what appeared to be intentional electricity cuts repeatedly prevented him from delivering his prepared speech.
Sharon had planned to address the 3,000 members of the party’s central committee to beat back a challenge to his leadership of the party from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused him betraying the Likud by pulling out of the Gaza Strip.
The convention came ahead of a Likud vote Monday on whether to move up the party primaries. Netanyahu wants them in November and Sharon in April. Sharon has hinted he might quit the party if defeated in Monday’s vote.
Sharon, the final speaker of the night, walked to the podium to make his argument and found the microphone did not work. He sat down for several minutes and then walked back to the podium. He spoke a few words and then the microphone disconnected again. After waiting for several minutes, Sharon walked out of the hall.
Israel Radio read what it said was a copy of Sharon’s speech, where he characterized Monday’s vote as “an attempt to throw me out.”
“We will decide if the Likud will be the center of political game or will be pushed to the fringes,” the speech said.
Israel TV’s Channel One quoted a Likud spokesman, Shmulik Dahan, as saying someone had intentionally cut the power.
“I think that the conclusion is that we have a great problem with our culture of speech and culture of listening,” Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim, a Likud leader, told Army Radio.
In his speech earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said Sharon betrayed the party by making one-sided concessions to the Palestinians.
Without ever mentioning Sharon by name, Netanyahu said: “Someone is threatening to leave us. Nobody threatens us. ... If someone wants to split, they better split now.”
In the event he leaves Likud, Sharon is widely expected to form a centrist party to compete in the next election.