As of this week, the expectations that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would embrace a plea deal are waning, with the prosecution and the accused disagreeing on the fundamental issue of kalon-disgrace that would be attached to the agreement and which would cast Netanyahu out of political life until he turns 80. And so, for all intents and purposes, Bibi is still in charge in the Likud party – he’s the chairman, and in the Knesset opposition – he’s the leader. But that has not discouraged the eruption of a wave of skirmishes inside the country’s largest party among various contenders to the crown.
At some point, Likud is bound to hold primary elections and this time around, the votes will not determine only who gets to represent the party in the 25th Knesset – it’s also about who wins the first slot, and the second, down to the fifth, ostensibly deciding who succeeds Netanyahu when the day comes, and who would be standing behind his or her back with well-sharpened knives.
Some of that spirit came to light Saturday night, in a Miri Regev tweet that demanded: “Israel Katz, stop the rumor mill now and declare that you did not have any contacts with those who tore up the Likud and because of whom we are in the opposition. The Likud is done being the recycling bin of Israeli politics.”
This shot across the bow came in response to the rumors that Katz, realizing that his chances are slim to defeat the front runner behind Netanyahu, former Jerusalem Mayor and self-made millionaire, MK Nir Barkat, is conspiring with former-Likud senior and current Justice Minister and Chairman of the New Hope party Gideon Sa’ar to jump ship.
The math is obvious: both Katz and Sa’ar scored in the top five slots the last time Likud held a primary, suggesting that together they still have a considerable following in the party. Should both of them seek to come back, they would appeal to members who don’t want Miri Regev or Nir Barkat. Barkat is an outsider, a relatively recent arrival; and Miri Regev is… an acquired taste.
There was also a rumor that Ayelet Shaked, desperate to leave the left-leaning coalition government her partner Naftali Bennett dragged her into, is conspiring to create a right-wing, secular party with Katz and Sa’ar that would siphon votes away from Likud, Yamina, and Religious Zionism.
Katz responded Sunday morning: “Unfortunately, in recent days we have witnessed the well-oiled machine operated by anonymous elements around the clock, inventing fake news, spreading malicious rumors, and mostly transmits atomic pressure. Ugly slander, a flood of messages, briefings, and consciousness engineering is not our way – not the way of the Likud.”
Katz, who has been active in Likud since the early 1980s, was teaching Regev, who only joined in 2008, about Likud etiquette, reminders party members whose track record is lengthier. Katz also posted last week: “Last night I appeared on Meet the Press (Israel’s version – DI). I gave a big hug to Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom I share decades of acquaintance and political partnership, and noted that all of us will support him in every decision he makes. I stressed that the main task before us now is to urgently bring about the replacement of this failed government, which abuses the public and the businesses, harms the settlement enterprise, and sells the Negev lands to Abbas – with a nationalist government headed by the Likud.”
Last week I reported on a survey that was published Wednesday morning by Israel Hayom showing that only Barkat can forge a Likud-led government coalition – the other three contenders, Yuli Edelstein, Regev, and Katz, would fall short of a coalition, leaving the field to the big projected winner should they lead the Likud, Yair Lapid.