Netanyahu’s Enduring Political Game
by Yoel Meltzer
Following the recent announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he will run for president of the Likud Convention, the future of the current Likud has suddenly been thrown in the air. For in spite of its somewhat colorful history, this is the first time that a current Likud PM has attempted to grab control of this key decision-making institution, a move that in effect further neutralizes the influence of Likud Central Committee members.
The motive given by Netanyahu for this unprecedented move is to thwart the alleged intention of the newly elected Central Committee to cancel Likud primaries and in doing so restore the task of selecting Knesset members to the Central Committee itself.
However, this assumption is tenuous. Central Committee members clearly understand that any move aimed at allowing internal party hacks to once again have the power to choose MKs is akin to political suicide: Rival parties will portray the Likud as going back to its corrupt old ways; Likud rank and file members will feel bitter for being pushed aside and losing their recently acquired power to decide; the Israeli media will have a field day ripping apart the Likud.
Thus it’s far more likely that the real reason for the unorthodox move by the PM has nothing to do with the Likud primaries and everything to do with the highly unpopular Ehud Barak. More specifically, it appears that Netanyahu wants to use the convention to pass a resolution that will allow him to have a few reserved slots for the people of his choice in the next party list.
This way, should Likud win the next national election, Netanyahu can bring these people – assumed by nearly everyone to be either Ehud Barak and his small Independence Party or Ehud Barak and some anticipated Kadima defectors – unimpeded into the Likud.
Such a plan, however, is certain to backfire as outside of the PM himself, most members in the current right-wing nationalist coalition, including the majority of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, are not exactly fans of Ehud Barak. His Oslo ideology and harsh stance against Jews living in Judea and Samaria perpetually irks nearly every Likud MK and, by extension, most Likud voters.
Hence, for many people it is both perplexing and irritating that Netanyahu not only continues to support Barak but even gives him free reign to do as he pleases, rather than simply ousting him as defense minister and giving the position to someone like former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon.
In a similar vein, albeit in the opposite direction, three years ago many potential Likud voters were turned off by Netanyahu’s incessant attacks on Moshe Feiglin and the apparent monkey business in having Feiglin knocked down from the 20th to 36th slot following the 2009 primaries. This in turn was one of the reasons that led to the Likud plummeting in the polls prior to the last elections, as the average Likud voter prefers a party that is full of genuine right-wing candidates to one that is constantly trying to improve its image by moving leftward.
Will Netanyahu make the same mistake again, in this case by doing everything possible to magically transform Ehud Barak into a Likudnik and in the process ostracize many potential voters? If so, it’s doubtful that this time around he will be rewarded with a second chance in the same manner as he was in 2009 when he was asked to form a coalition only after Tzipi Livni and the victorious Kadima party failed in their own attempt.
In the final analysis, it’s only Bibi, and not Tzipi or Yair or anyone else, who can stop the Likud and the Right from winning the next election and forming another right-wing nationalist coalition. Which way will he go?