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Inside Out: Why vote for Likud Beytenu?
By JONATHAN ROSEN
01/02/2013
Why vote Likud Beytenu? The lack of a better alternative hardly qualifies as a good answer.
 
The Likud Beytenu joint list has been dropping steadily in the polls for the past month, reaching a new low point of 33 and 34 seats in polls commissioned this week by Channel 2 and Haaretz respectively. Scrambling to explain the losses, Likud officials have cited mainly flawed tactical decisions as the primary cause for the declining support. They suggested that the merger with Yisrael Beytenu alienated voters in the two parent parties, and argued that the party’s withering attacks on Bayit Yehudi and Shas had had a unexpected boomerang effect.

Those tactical decisions might have contributed to the diminishing support for Likud Beytenu, but the ongoing drop in numbers almost certainly reflects a deeper mistrust of the joint list, despite the fact that it remains the front-runner in the absence of a credible alternative.

In the past number of weeks most of the parties have worked to sharpen their message. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, for example, presented a plan designed to resolve some of the predicaments facing Israel with respect to the future of the settlements. The plan, regardless of its questionable feasibility, addresses head-on the threat posed by the continued occupation of the Palestinian population in the West Bank to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Bennett also put himself in the line of fire when he said in an interview to Channel 2 that he would prefer to go to jail rather than evict Jews from their homes in settlements.

Despite the fact that his statements were certainly blown out of proportion by his political adversaries, and regardless of his subsequent apology – Bennett’s statements showed him to be a person of clear political and moral convictions.

Alternately, the Likud under Netanyahu has done the opposite, providing conflicting messages about many of the core issues facing Israel, particularly as concerns the future of the West Bank and the Israeli settlements.

What, after all, is the Likud’s position? Is the Likud in favor of the two-state solution, as Netanyahu said in his Bar-Ilan speech? Or was Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely telling the truth when she said earlier this week that that speech had been merely a “tactic” to alleviate world pressure? Netanyahu said this week that it would be a mistake to rush negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was liable to be replaced at any time by Hamas. On the face of things, that is a valid point. But the question is whether the Likud as a party has the will to negotiate with Abbas or any other Palestinian leader – no matter what the pace.

Judging by the composition of its list, and not by its leader’s pithy statements, the Likud will not negotiate a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. Does anyone seriously believe that a Likud that ousted Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin, both of whom respected the rule of law and democracy, only to replace them with people such as Moshe Feiglin, who aspires to “purify” Jerusalem of al-Aksa Mosque and to rebuild the Temple, presumably to renew animal sacrifices, would seriously negotiate a two-state solution with any Palestinian leadership?

On the assumption that most voters do have a position of one kind or another on what Israel ought to do with the West Bank and the Israeli settlements, voting for the Likud is risky. If you believe that Israel ought to extend its sovereignty over the Israeli settlements, as some Likud MKs and ministers said this week, you might as well vote for Bayit Yehudi. At least Naftali Bennett has personally signed off on a plan that calls for the annexation of Area C, which is home to all Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu has not.

If, alternately, you believe that Israel ought to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, while demanding that it meet certain preconditions prior to any Israeli territorial concessions, as Netanyahu has offered as his calling card, you might as well vote for a party that is actually likely to vote in favor of a deal with the Palestinians in the Knesset.

The Likud of Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Tzipi Hotovely cannot reasonably be expected to do so.

That being the case, it is no wonder Netanyahu has shied away from addressing issues of substance in the campaign to date, preferring to offer the electorate vapid slogans about the need to reelect him as a “strong leader” in order to ensure a “strong Israel.”

His declining numbers in the polls indicate, however, that fewer and fewer voters are buying into that hollow logic.

After all, despite his self-professed strength as a leader, Netanyahu accomplished very little in his four years at the head of a stable right-wing coalition, particularly on the Palestinian front.

In fact, the only two real achievements he chalked up in that sphere hardly met either of his self-declared goals: to weaken Hamas, on the one hand, and to prevent the PA leadership from gaining political achievements without giving anything in return, on the other.

The opposite occurred in both cases – Hamas emerged politically strengthened from the Schalit deal and the negotiations that ended Operation Pillar of Defense, and the PA won resounding international support for its bid to upgrade its UN status to that of an observer state.

So why vote Likud Beytenu? The lack of a better alternative hardly qualifies as a good answer.

The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.
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