Op-Ed: Don’t Take the Likud for Granted
When it comes to Jewish settlement and extension of national sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, let's face it, Benjamin Netanyahu is no Menachem Begin or Yitzchak Shamir. In the last four years, he endorsed Palestinian statehood (albeit demilitarized) and froze settlement building for ten months and oversaw the destruction of communities/neighborhoods that had legal problems, but perhaps with the right legislative solution, could have been saved.
That's why the announcement by Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan - the man charged with representing and leading the development of the Jewish community in Judea and Samaria – that he will resign and campaign for Netanyahu, at the expense of the Jewish Home party, came to many as a surprise.
It was all the more surprising because the Jewish Home party, the renamed National-Religious Party, is polling exceptionally well. Several months ago it seemed that it would be lucky to get 10 seats in the Knesset. Today it seems likely to get 15 or higher, some polls even placing it neck and neck with the Labor party to be the second largest party in the next Knesset. Dayan’s support for Likud-Beytenu could undermine that.
Dayan has articulated two reasons for his decision. First he says that "after [considering] everything, this government was excellent for the settlements." The Bar Ilan speech did not lead to a Palestinian state and it doesn't look like it will - and after the freeze, he says permits were given and construction resumed.
Indeed, only recently the government oversaw the fast-track transition of Ariel University Center to Judea and Samaria’s first full fledged “university” (not an easy status to come by in Israel), thousands of housing units have been authorized, and plans to construct in E-1, the hill connecting Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, advanced to the next stage.
Dayan’s second reason is a bit more complex, but nonetheless astute. "The Right is heading for a second Oslo," he says, and it's "not clear that Netanyahu will be elected" as Prime Minister. He recalls that in 1992, Tehiya, of which he was a part, pulled out of Yitzchak Shamir’s 62 member coalition and “brought down Shamir over some nonsense.” That “nonsense” was Israel’s participation in the Madrid conference. The Likud lost the next election. Labor won and initiated the Oslo peace process. "We brought Oslo on ourselves,” Dayan said. “We’re likely to make the same mistakes today.”
A month ago such talk would have sounded ridiculous. In early December, the Likud-Beytenu list was polling at 37-39 seats. Down from 42, that would have been disappointment for both the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, but nonetheless more than sufficient to lead the country and form a government with confidence. But since then the Likud-Beytenu list has dropped to 32-36 seats in polls, ceding ground to the Jewish Home party.
A poll released yesterday by Channel 1, for example, showed Labor garnering 18 seats, Yesh Atid 10 and The Movement nine, Meretz five and Kadima two. That would give the Left 44 seats, while, according to the poll, the Center-Right would receive 47 (33 for Likud Beytenu and 14 for Jewish Home). Shas and Torah Judaism would receive 10 and six seats respectively. Under that scenario it is conceivable that the hareidi parties could be persuaded to join the Left's coalition as they have in the past. Perhaps also the Shas breakaway, Am Shalem, which that poll showed receiving two seats, would also join. That would give a Left-led government a coalition of majority of 62 seats. Thin, but a government nonetheless.
With the Likud-Beytenu’s fall potentially ongoing, President Shimon Peres, who recently called for the resumption of the peace process, could reason that since the Likud Beytenu represents a one-time merger of two parties, he should consider them separately. Even a 33-seat Likud Beytenu means only a 21-seat Likud, which isn’t that much larger than the Labor party’s 18. If its necessary to, in Perez’s mind, “save”the two-state solution, and the hareidi parties recommend it, Yachimovitch-Livni-Lapid could be tasked with forming the next government.
That’s not the likely scenario, but that puts us too close for comfort to the possibility of a Prime Minister Shelly Yachimovitch, perhaps rotating with a Prime Minister Tzipi Livni. The lower the Likud-Beytenu list dips, even if it loses seats to Jewish Home, the more likely this scenario becomes.
But the Likud could lose in a different way. Suppose the Likud does form a stable government – a feat which will now require much more concessions to Shas, UTJ and or one of the leftist parties (probably Yesh Atid) – it will have won the battle, but it may have lost the war.
The Likud won 27 seats in the last election, in reality losing out to Kadima, which won 28 seats. Nevertheless, Netanyahu was tasked with forming a coalition. In short, we got lucky. If the Likud drops to 21 seats or even lower, that will be the sign of weakness, which will signal the Left to rally around a single party (given the egos involved, most likely in the form of a joint list) and have a good chance at winning the next election. With the Right and the hareidi parties sparring over military service and socio-economic policy (where the hareidi parties agree with the Left) and with Aryeh Deri back at the helm of Shas, this is not a possibility that can be ignored.
It is one thing for the national-religious sector to maintain a party to represent the interests of a community or for residents of settlements to maintain a party like the Ichud Leumi or Otzma LeYisrael to ensure that a voice of opposition from the Right is heard. Like it or not, that’s exactly the sort of thing the proportional-list system was intended for.
But it’s quite another if the Right is split into three mid-size parties. That could create chaos on the Right for years to come, paving the way for the Left to return to power for an indefinite period. As Dayan said, that could mean a second Oslo or a second Disengagement.
In order to avoid that, the Right should unite under a center-right movement like the Likud, even if that means tolerating the imperfections of its leaders.