Rejuvenated Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to assemble an “all-star” lineup of perceptibly incorruptible politicians, media celebrities and former high-ranking military officials in order to crush Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni’s chances of being elected prime minister on February 10, when Israeli citizens return to the polling booths.
During the past few days, former Likud Knesset members Benny Begin, 65, and Dan Meridor, 61, have announced their intentions to rejoin the party ahead of the upcoming Likud primaries.
Both Begin and Meridor were considered the princes of Likud in the late 1980s. However, Begin clashed with both Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon over the Likud’s peace overtures to PLO chief Yasir Arafat – resigning in protest over the 1997 Hebron-Wye Agreement.
Meridor, who held key government posts as minister of finance and minister of justice, resigned from Likud in 1997 to form a centrist political faction. He then returned to Ariel Sharon’s government in 2001. When Sharon’s sons allegedly prevented him from joining the new Kadima party in 2006, Meridor maintained his Likud Party membership.
Begin and Meridor are considered “clean” politicians by their colleagues and the Israeli electorate, who still hold fond memories of Benny Begin’s father – fiery Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, of blessed memory.
Other “big” names who have announced their intention to seek a high-ranking position on the Likud list include former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF spokeswoman Miri Regev, government Press Office director Daniel Seaman, IDF brigadier general (res.)/MK Effi Eitam (who is looking to bolt from the new National Union-National Religious Party merger), and IDF brigadier general (res.)/MK Aryeh Eldad.
However, Eitam and Eldad could face an uphill battle from a sizable number of center-right Likud members, who believe that their political philosophies skew too far to the right.Netanyahu has been meeting with key members of the Likud’s central committee in order to secure their commitment. This would allow him to place a handful of big names atop the party list without having them run for a position during the primaries. There have also been rumors that Netanyahu has asked Tal Brody, the American-born, ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star, to join the Likud list.
According to Israeli media reports, Begin, Meridor and Ya’alon would not only form the core of Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, they would also be prominently featured as an incorruptible triumvirate who would bring change to Israeli society in a Netanyahu government.
Netanyahu will also look to secure high-ranking positions for such stalwart Likud politicians as Ruby Rivlin (ex-speaker of the Knesset), Silvan Shalom (ex-finance and foreign minister), Limor Livnat (ex-education minister) and Gideon Sa’ar, current deputy speaker of the Knesset.
The tidal wave of publicity surrounding the new recruits to Likud has forced Kadima’s Livni to seek out and secure big names ahead of her party’s primaries. She has reportedly asked noted media celebrity Yair Lapid, son of late Shinui party leader Tommy Lapid, and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski to come aboard. And in order to balance out her perceived anti-religious agenda in the wake of her announcement that she is willing to support non-rabbinic civil marriages in Israel, Livni has allegedly asked Rabbi Michael Melchior and his Meimad party to integrate itself into Kadima.
Labor Party leader Ehud Barak and Rabbi Melchior parted ways last week after Melchior was purportedly told that his faction might not be given a prominent position ahead of Labor’s primaries. Recent polls have predicted that the Labor Party might lose at least 3-5 seats on February 10, which would doom Barak’s political aspiration to regain the premiership.