JERUSALEM – High-ranking Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, as well as Knesset members and political activists, are furious with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman for the flailing election campaign strategy orchestrated by Arthur J. Finkelstein, the noted New York Republican Party strategist.
Finkelstein reportedly was the brainchild behind the temporary political merger between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, believing that a large, nationalist Israeli political entity would sweep the elections and receive a minimum of 40 Knesset mandates. In his view, this would allow Netanyahu to determine Israel’s domestic and foreign policy political agendas without kowtowing to smaller parties like Yahadut HaTorah and Shas.
But over the past month the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu campaign has gone into a tailspin, as a growing number of Likud voters have been alienated by the attorney general’s indictment of Lieberman; Netanyahu’s personal attacks on Naftali Bennett, the head of the fast-rising HaBayit HaYehudi Party; Israel’s deteriorating relations with the White House and the EU; and the government’s refusal to address expensive tax hikes – from state and city taxes to electricity and water taxes. The tax hikes have moved a growing number of middle-class families into the category of the “working poor.”
Earlier this week several newspaper and TV polls said that the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction would receive no more than 32 seats, with Bennett’s right-wing party gaining as much as 15 seats – possibly making it the second largest party in the next Knesset. While a majority of Likud MKs and activists believe that HaBayit HaYehudi’s pro-settler/national religious agenda would be an excellent political fit for the next governing coalition, Netanyahu’s alleged personal animosity toward Bennett and secular HaBayit HaYehudi candidate Ayelet Shaked has made a future political alliance uncertain. According to the Israeli media both Bennett and Shaked, who held influential posts in Netanyahu’s office when he was Israel’s opposition leader, left after purportedly clashing with the prime minister’s wife, Sara.
Also this week, President Shimon Peres added to the prime minister’s political woes by publicly upbraiding him for refusing to negotiate a peace deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Peres also said that Israel could negotiate with Hamas if they renounced violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist. Peres was a key architect of the failed Oslo accords that he negotiated with the PLO’s Yasir Arafat, whose widow, Suha, admitted in an interview recently that her husband had no compunction about organizing and launching the Second Intifada against Israel – even after signing the Oslo accords. In addition, Al Jazeera TV disclosed the contents of secret PA documents this week showing that Abbas instructed his peace interlocutor to reject the generous peace overtures made by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. They offered nearly 95 percent of Judea and Samaria to the PA, as well as control over the Temple Mount and other Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s son, Yair, who holds the fourth slot on the combined Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu slate, acknowledged at a political forum earlier this week that “we are losing mandates and, as a result, we might have to consider forming a government with many different political factions.”
The good news for Netanyahu is that the same newspaper and TV polls that find the combined list’s popularity slipping reported that other than HaBayit HaYehudi, the other new parties – including Hatenua (led by Livni) and Yesh Atid (headed by Yair Lapid) – have so far failed to win support from disgruntled Likud voters. Livni and Lapid boasted that their “fresh ideas” would attract at least 15 or more seats combined in the next Knesset (polls show them winning 10-11 seats), which would give them the leverage to pressure Netanyahu into revising his new government’s domestic and foreign policies from his current ones.