Likud-Beytenu to play hardball with settlers if they don’t vote for the list, report says

Netanyahu’s party said infuriated by settlers who join Likud to influence primary results but then vote for the competition

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

A worker prepares ballot boxes for the previous elections, at a warehouse in Shoham, near Tel Aviv, January 8, 2013 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A worker prepares ballot boxes for the previous elections, at a warehouse in Shoham, near Tel Aviv, January 8, 2013 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Support for Naftali Bennett’s ascendant right-wing Jewish Home party comes largely at the expense of the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and nowhere is this more pronounced than among the largely Orthodox settler population. Reportedly, the trend has prompted Likud to “play rough” and convey the message that if these Israelis fail to vote for Likud-Beytenu in January 22’s election, the consequences for the entire settler movement could be grave.

The emphasis of the ruling party’s new approach is on the many settlers who enlisted as Likud members so they could participate in the party primaries and vote for hard-line members on the Likud Knesset slate, even though they have no intention of voting for the party in the elections, Maariv reported on Friday.

“In the previous elections [in 2009], trends pointed at the infuriating phenomenon of residents of Judea and Samaria enlisting as party members but then not voting for [Likud] in the elections,” sources in the party were quoted as saying. “The accusation was that they were taking over the party, even though they aren’t really supporters.”

But now, the sources said, “there’s pressure on the settlers. The message is that, this time round, you have to be with us. Otherwise, there will be repercussions for the future of the settlement movement.”

The report cited as an example a recent event with Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, a resident of the settlement of Neve Daniel, in the home of a supporter in the settlement of Psagot.

People who attended the pre-election event reportedly said that, with the Likud-led government’s support of the settlers so pronounced in recent months — Netanyahu has approved thousands of new housing units, flying in the face of the international community — settler supporters of the party should be able to enlist their friends as well. Otherwise, Edelstein was quoted as saying, Netanyahu and his ministers would lose respect for the settlers.

“In the last four years, they invested a lot of money in settlements, but in the coming four years, the extent of the support and the sums involved will drop,” one participant reportedly said. “There are people in the Likud who say that, instead of appointing as ministers [in the next government] the party’s rightist Knesset members, we should appoint outsiders [left off the list] who are true Likudniks — people like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor.”

Meridor, a prominent moderate, and Benny Begin, a principled hard-liner of the old school, didn’t make the cut for the party’s Knesset slate in the recent primary elections.

Another Likud member was quoted as saying that, after the elections, the party would compare the number of votes it received in various settlements to the number of Likud members in the same locations.

“If you turn the settlement movement into a sectarian cause, you lose the most important source of support — the public,” Likud’s MK Yariv Levin said. “When all is said and done, the Likud government did a lot for the settlement movement: road infrastructure, a new university, more construction in many places… A weak show of support for the Likud turns the settlements into a personal cause of the settlers and takes them out of the consensus position of [being associated with] the ruling party.”

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