Likud opponents of the agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – to run a joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list in January’s elections — are bidding to torpedo the alliance when it comes up for approval at a Likud Central Committee meeting next week.
The Likud opponents of the plan, including MK Michael Eitan, are aiming to have committee members vote in a secret ballot on the alliance, which they believe is more likely to produce a “no” vote. The MKs are were circulating a petition for a secret ballot, which will only be held if 10 percent of Central Committee members demanded it.
Their prospects of thwarting the deal appear negligible, given the widespread support it has gained in the Likud.
Meanwhile, further details of the agreement emerged Friday. The joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu Knesset slate will have Netanyahu in first slot, and Liberman in second. From there on, the list will feature two Likud candidates followed by one Yisrael Beytenu candidate — reflecting the approximate strengths of the two parties in the outgoing Knesset; the Likud has 27 seats and Yisrael Beytenu 15. The Likud will choose its candidates in internal party primaries; Liberman heads a panel in his party that chooses its potential MKs.
Netanyahu agreed that Liberman could choose any ministerial position; Liberman said Friday he would likely stick with the Foreign Ministry.
Netanyahu also pledged not to relinquish the Golan Heights in any negotiations with Syria.
Among the factors pushing Netanyahu to do the deal, insiders said Friday, were polls showing a joint list would fare better than the two parties running separately. There was also concern over a possible resurgence of Shas under returned leader Aryeh Deri, and over a potential new centrist force under former prime minister Ehud Olmert, both of which just might see the Likud edged out of coalition negotiations, with Liberman wooed elsewhere.
Eitan was the only prominent Likud member to publicly oppose the joint list in the first few hours after Netanyahu and Liberman announced their deal on Thursday night. Several senior ministers have refused comment, however, including leading Likud moderate Dan Meridor.
Reports Friday said Meridor and another top minister, Benny Begin, were among the first to be told by Netanyahu of the impending announcement. He called them in on Wednesday — not for advice, but to tell them of his agreement with Liberman. The prime minister informed other senior Likud ministers in the course of Thursday.
Begin and Meridor are widely seen as the Likud ministers most wary of Liberman — Begin because of his emphasis on preserving democratic values, and Meridor because of his dovish political views regarding the Palestinians.
Eitan, a veteran MK who looks set to lose his seat in the next elections because of his increasingly dovish positions, on Friday urged his fellow party members to oppose the alliance by undertaking a “democratic struggle” to convince Likud members, not least Netanyahu himself, that joining forces with Liberman would be a mistake. “It will harm the Likud movement and will not bring about the results we have been promised,” Eitan wrote on his Facebook page, calling on Likud members to sign the petition requesting a secret ballot.
On Thursday, Eitan warned that running on a joint list would “ruin” his party. “Such an agreement, if it were to come to pass, would ruin the Likud movement and threaten Israeli democracy,” Eitan wrote.
Various unnamed Likud figures were quoted in Hebrew media reports Friday criticizing Netanyahu for having “sold the party down the river.” Orthodox Likud members, for whom the fiercely secular Liberman is anathema, were said to be prominent among the critics, along with Meridor-style moderates who consider Liberman’s political views to be too extreme.
Many other Likud figures have been publicly supportive, notably including Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and ministers Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Katz. MK Tzipi Hotovely called the alliance a “historic” mandate.
“We have returned to the discourse of large parties that take after the American model. The people will be able to choose between large blocs, and not between parties such as Kadima or [Yesh Atid party chairman Yair] Lapid,” Hotovely told Channel 2 News.