On Saturday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beitenu) said at an interview show that the union between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu had come as no surprise to him, as it was clear that after the election the two parties would seek to establish a nationalist government together. “The leaders of the two parties, Avigdor Liberman and Benjamin Netanyahu, have done well to join together before the election,” said Ayalon, adding that the move has clarified for the voters what is at stake: choosing between a large, experienced and cohesive block, representing the will of the Zionist majority—those who work, serve, and shoulder responsibilities—and splinter parties, some of them fashionable, with no experience or a proven leadership ability.”
But over at the Likud, many appear unimpressed by their party leader’s bold move, which is expected to be voted on at the Likud conference on Monday. Several Likud ministers are weighing a vote against the union. Minister of Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan has so far been the most vociferous against the move, saying he fears that Likud would suffer from this rightward turn.
“This is battle over the home of old and new Likudniks, who see the Likud as offering the right balance, who evaluate the Likud’s ability to compete, and who fear that this move will alter the Likud’s image and reduce its power,” Eitan told the Army Radio.
According to the Army Radio, Netanyahu has been abandoned by his Likud ministers, who aren’t lending a hand to his effort to promote a Yes vote on Monday. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman—decidedly not a Likudnik—has rolled up his sleeves, and together with Netanyahu and his staff has been making phone calls to Likud Center members, soliciting their support for the new union.
“I received phone calls from all my friends inside the Likud,” said Liberman, “the trend is clear – 90% of the people who are really Likud members support this move.”
Many Likud local branch officials across Israel are opposing the move to unite with Liberman, saying: “Netanyahu has sold out the Likud to Liberman to take care of himself,” Maariv reported Sunday. Likewise, there’s resistance to the move from MKs with power bases in the various party sectors, who might find themselves being pushed out of realistic slots on the new list. As it happens, most of these local leaders are Sephardim, which increases tensions even more.
Recently, Minister of Communications, Welfare and Social Services Moshe Kahlon, a Sephardi who gained great national popularity by forcing cellphone providers to compete with new challengers, a move that resulted in a drastic reduction in rates, announced he would not be running for the 19th Knesset – presumably because he couldn’t count on a realistic spot on the list. Now, according to Maariv, the name Moshe Kahlon is coming up in every conversation with Likud officials in the local branches. “You throw Kachlon out and you put a Russian on the list in his place, why?” asked one senior party official.
On the left wing of the Likud party, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor is considering retirement from the ranks of Likud, according to Israel’s Channel 2 News. The centrist (some say left-of-center) Meridor sees a vast ideological gap between himself and Liberman. The relationship between the two men has been strained for more than two decades.
But Republican pollster and political adviser Arthur Finkelstein, who counseled Netanyahu and Liberman on the new union, says the combined list should bring in around 45 seats, compared with the 42 seats both parties hold today.