More than 123,000 Likud members have the power Sunday to shape the face of their party’s list for the 19th Knesset, and political analysts say they will use it to move the party further to the right.
Moderate Likud MKs who have even the slightest leaning toward the center have to fear for their political survival, while several other — younger and less experienced — candidates who have placed themselves firmly on the right of the political spectrum can be confident to reach spots high enough to make it into the 19th Knesset.
Nearly 100 party members are competing in Sunday’s primaries, but only the 25 best-placed candidates have a realistic chance to be elected come Election Day on January 22, 2013.
All 123,351 Likud members were called upon to cast their votes in one of 132 polling stations across the country, which were initially scheduled to close at 10 p.m. Results were expected to be announced two hours after the polls close, but due to computer glitches disrupting the election process, the vote may be extended until Monday.
The primaries for Israel’s ruling party, which is running in the next elections on a joint list with Yisrael Beytenu, have widely been characterized as a battle for the party’s soul. Many analysts expect the Likud’s more experienced but politically moderate forces to end up in low spots that will leave them out of the Knesset while the more hawkish camp — hardline supporters of the West Bank settlement movement and opponents of a Palestinian state — can look forward to emerge strengthened from Sunday’s vote.
Recent polls predict between 35 and 40 seats for Likud Beytenu, the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu. Spots on the list will be divided based on the two parties’ strength in the outgoing Knesset (where Likud had 27 and Yisrael Beytenu 15 seats), which means that after the two party chairmen — Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman — who will occupy the first two slots on the joint list, there will be sequences of two spots for a Likud candidate followed by one for a Yisrael Beytenu candidate.
Current Likud ministers Yisrael Katz, Gideon Sa’ar, Yuli Edelstein, Silvan Shalom, Gilad Erdan, Yuval Steinitz, and Moshe Ya’alon can hope for realistic slots. But veteran MKs and current ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan will likely not make it to the 19th Knesset. Meridor and Eitan, especially, belong to the party’s moderate wing and openly opposed the party’s alliance with Yisrael Beytenu, Eitan energetically so. Party members might punish them for their dissenting views and moderate positions.
Some younger, less experienced but ideologically more right-wing politicians, such as Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin or Yariv Levin, on the other hand, can expect to be reelected for additional terms.
Indeed, the campaign slogans of some of the younger Likud MKs sometimes sounded like a contest about who is more strongly opposed to a Palestinian state or to a settlement freeze, and who has demanded more vigorously a unilateral annexation of the West Bank.
“As a deputy minister and member of Knesset she supported increased building and strengthening of the settlements as well as ratification of the Levy report,” a campaign brochure for Lea Nass declared.
Some political analysts even expect a realistic slot for Moshe Feiglin, the leader of Likud’s far-right “Jewish Leadership” faction. Feiglin managed to have some senior Likud MKs, such as Haim Katz and Yisrael Katz, recommend that their supporters vote for him, despite Netanyahu’s known animosity toward Feiglin.
Netanyahu fears that Feiglin’s entrance into the Knesset would make the party look too extremist and has therefore in the past attempted to prevent Feiglin from attaining a realistic slot. Since Yisrael Katz is known to have a large and loyal following, many pundits says Feiglin has a good shot at a high spot. But not everyone agrees that widespread support among Likud members will actually translate into an actual seat in the Knesset.
“In every Likud primary, Feiglin ends up in a place where he should enter the Knesset, but Netanyahu always finds a way to make sure he doesn’t,” said Jeremy Saltan, a political analyst and adviser to Israeli right-wing politicians. “This time will be no different.”
Indeed, the primaries are not the final word on who gets which spot on a party’s list. In the past, Netanyahu found several legal and procedural ways to demote Feiglin after primaries.
Similarly, there are ways to promote candidates who did not reach a realistic spot. Netanyahu could, for example, strike a deal with Liberman to have his favorite candidates run on spots reserved for Yisrael Beytenu candidates. Some analyst say this could be an option, for example, for former Israeli ambassador to the US and ex-MK Zalman Shoval, who is running in the primaries at Netanyahu’s behest but has little chance of reaching a realistic slot by himself.
It is also theoretically possible for more moderate Likud MKs who receive low spots on the list to join other parties. While former prime minister Ehud Olmert is expected to announce that he is not running in the January 22 election, his former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is said to announce her candidacy early this week.
Livni, who started her political career in the Likud, is rumored to seek to revive the now-defunct Hetz party and run on a centrist platform.
At least four current or former Kadima MK are seeking spots on the Likud list: Avi Dichter, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich and Aryeh Bibi.
All parties vying for Knesset seats must present their final lists of candidates by December 6.