A tense drama is unfolding in the Likud, where primaries on Monday will determine whether the party will take Netanyahu’s centrist line, or will lean more to the right.
Some 150 candidates will be vying on Monday for the support of approximately 100,000 Likud voters around the country. The candidates – former and incumbent Knesset members (MKs) along with political newcomers – are hoping to be chosen for high-ranking spots on the list of Knesset candidates that the Likud will present for the national elections. The polls will be open in 91 locations across the country from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Netanyahu Paves Way for New Party to Join Likud
Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have a surprise in store for the party faithful: He has asked for approval of an amendment to allow the Central Committee to approve the incorporation of another party, and its candidates, on the Likud’s list. There is speculation that Netanyahu means to welcome a group of former Likud members who are now in the Kadima Party, led by former Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz, or possibly a smaller group of MKs from the Pensioners Party. Neither option is very appealing to the current Likud candidates, who feel they will be pushed down on the list beyond the number of Knesset seats the Likud will win.
Netanyahu vs. Feiglin
Though Netanyahu is a former Prime Minister, and Jewish Leadership faction head Moshe Feiglin has never served as a Knesset Member, the fight between them and the camps they lead is sharp and caustic. Netanyahu recently warned the candidates not to attend a pro-Feiglin event, and his aides claim that though he opposes none of the candidates openly, Feiglin is the only exception.
Among the “tricks” Netanyahu is accused of pulling against Feiglin and the "Jewish Leadership" candidates is lowering the number of polling stations from well over 200 to only 91. Many towns in Judea and Samaria (Yesha), where Feiglin’s support is significant, will thus not have polling stations, and the voters will either have to travel elsewhere or stay home. There will only be eight voting points in all of Yesha: in Shilo, Beit El, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba, Maaleh Adumim, Efrat, Bahad 3 near Yitzhar, and Shaar Binyamin near Psagot.
Netanyahu was also able to convince the Central Committee last week to change the voting regulations in a manner deemed to “neutralize” Feiglin supporters. Instead of each voter choosing ten candidates, he or she will now choose 12 on the nationalist list (as opposed to the 15 that Netanyahu originally wanted), as well as two on a separate “new immigrants” list, and one from the voter’s region.
Feiglin's camp will release names of additional preferred candidates on Monday morning at 8 AM, but not earlier - "to prevent political pressures from being exerted upon them," according to the Jewish Leadership office.
Unsigned ads have been published in major newspapers of a Knesset Channel poll indicating that the Likud will receive 35-36 seats in the upcoming election – but only 30 if Feiglin is included on the Likud list. Jewish Leadership activists counter this by saying that Feiglin’s broad support within the Likud Central Committee and among Likud members proves the large extent of the public support he enjoys. Feiglin himself dismissed the poll results, adding that "if Netanyahu continues the delusional campaign to de-legitimize Feiglin, the Likud could indeed lose Knesset seats."
Another ad-war was waged over the weekend, with one full-page announcement stating, "The left is praying that Feiglin will be elected to a high spot in the Likud," and a counter-ad stating that Netanyahu spoke against the struggle for Peace House in Hevron by calling for an "iron hand" against the protestors.
Lists of Preferred Candidates
Many lists of “endorsed candidates” have been circulated. Netanyahu, for instance, is said to be openly supporting Uzi Dayan and Assaf Heifetz, neither of whom has strong pro-Land of Israel views. He has also asked voters to support Judea and Samaria (Yesha) residents Yuli Edelstein and Yechiel Leiter, as well as Leah Ness and Chaim Katz.
On the regional lists, Netanyahu supports former Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal in the Negev, David Even-Tzur in Haifa, Shmuel Slavin in Jerusalem, and Tal Brody in the Coastal Plain.
The Jewish Leadership faction, on the other hand, supports the following: Feiglin, Shmuel Sackett, Sagiv Asulin, Asya Antov, and Boaz HaEtzni. Names of additional preferred candidates will be released on Monday morning at 8 a.m., but not earlier. This is “in order to prevent political pressures from being exerted upon them," according to the Jewish Leadership office.
Gush Katif Endorses "Rebel" Candidates
A list circulated by leaders of the former Gush Katif communities gratefully remembers the anti-Disengagement activities of several Likud members in 2004-5. The MKs and former MKs known as the “rebels” against Ariel Sharon and who are currently endorsed by the Gush Katif residents are: Edelstein, Ruby Rivlin, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kachlon, Michael Ratzon, Ayoub Kara, Ehud Yatom, Gideon Saar, Yechiel Chazan, Daniel Ben-Lulu, Leah Ness and Chaim Katz.
Others who have been mentioned as strong opponents of a Palestinian state are Michael Kleiner, Gila Gamliel, Benny Begin, Moshe Yaalon, Tzipi Hutubeli and Yoni Goldblatt.
Silvan Shalom's List
MK Silvan Shalom, who presented the strongest challenge to Netanyahu’s party leadership in recent years, also has a list of preferred candidates. Some of them overlap with Feiglin’s, while others, such as Arik Brami in Haifa and Gamliel, do not.
Great Interest in the Likud
The great interest shown by the national-religious camp in the Likud primaries can be chalked up to the Likud’s predicted overwhelming victory in the coming national elections. Feiglin, however, explains it differently: “Those who see the newspapers of the religious public and the synagogue pamphlets cannot ignore the great amount of ads and articles regarding the Likud primaries. Candidates brag about their loyalty to the Land of Israel, to Jewish education, to tradition and nation. What has happened here that the Likud is suddenly of such interest to the religious public? The answer is that ‘Jewish Leadership’ has brought many members to the Likud, and therefore their interests are now of great interest to the candidates of the Likud – the ruling party of the nationalist camp.”
The vote will be computerized. Each candidate has been assigned a three-digit number, and each voter must click on 12 such numbers. The 12 chosen names then appear on a screen, and the voter can make changes if s/he so desires. Two more candidates must be chosen in the same manner from among the ten candidates running for the new immigrant slot, and one more from the voter’s region.
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