Likud minister Katz accuses MK Barkat of ‘subversive’ action against Netanyahu

Finance minister expresses outrage as former Jerusalem mayor calls conference to announce his ‘vision’ for the country

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at the Kohelet Forum Conference in Tel Aviv on February 12, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at the Kohelet Forum Conference in Tel Aviv on February 12, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

With concern growing in Likud over the possible formation of a so-called change government that will oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power, conflict erupted Friday between two top party officials who view themselves as potential successors to the premier.

The spat developed after MK Nir Barkat announced plans for an activist conference in which he would unveil his “vision” for the country in two weeks’ time.

This raised the ire of Finance Minister Israel Katz, who wrote to supporters that “never in the history of Likud has such subversive action taken place against a ruling prime minister.”

Katz complained that Barkat’s actions were “wrong and unnecessary,” adding: “When there is a contest to lead the movement, Barkat will be able to present his vision and the body of his work on the national level.”

Finance Minister Israel Katz at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The last comment was likely a broadside against Barkat, who served for years as mayor of Jerusalem but who has not been appointed minister since joining the Knesset in 2019 — he was at one point promised by Netanyahu to be appointed finance minister, but the job eventually went to rival Katz.

Rumblings of discontent have increased in Likud as once peerless leader Netanyahu has failed to form stable governments in four elections within two years, and could be on the verge of losing power if his opponents manage to cobble together a government in the coming days.

Still, he remains hugely popular among Likud supporters, and dissent by Likud officials has only been expressed anonymously to the press. The only person in the party in recent years to challenge his leadership, Gideon Sa’ar, has since quit and formed his own vehicle in New Hope.

Thursday saw Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, currently tasked by the president with forming a government, meet Yamina chief Naftali Bennett for the first time since fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza broke out several weeks ago.

The discussion with Lapid surrounded the possibility of establishing a government, multiple reports indicated. The rest of Bennett’s party, including No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked, was not updated on the meeting, Channel 12 news reported.

An unnamed official in the change bloc told Channel 13 news that the Thursday meeting “increases the chances Yamina will join official negotiations next week.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Lod, near Tel Aviv, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Yuval Chen, Yediot Ahronot, Pool)

Yesh Atid — whose leader has just six days remaining to announce he has formed a government before he has to return his mandate to do so — has reached final agreements with the Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu parties, and near-final understandings with Blue and White and Labor.

Bennett has refused to commit to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs, keeping his options open. He has vowed to do “everything” to prevent the country from going to its fifth election in two and a half years.

The potential deal with Yesh Atid would see Bennett serve as prime minister for two years, followed by Lapid for two years. But Bennett is facing intense pressure from the right against a government that includes the left. His deputy Shaked is also said to be strongly opposed.

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