How the Likud can win

The Likud should be unashamed of its commitment to the Land of Israel, with a real domestic platform.

February 5, 2013 22:24
Liberman and Netanyahu at Likud Beytenu faction meeting, Feb 5 2013

Liberman and Netanyahu at Likud Beytenu faction meeting 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Though Binyamin Netanyahu will continue as Israel’s prime minister, the recent election results constituted a serious blow to his party, the Likud.

It’s not just that Likud did so much more poorly than expected, but that it is now practically a mid-size party, comprising only 20 Knesset seats. It shrunk by seven seats (a little over 25 percent), whereas just a few months ago, polls predicted it would grow.

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Typically such a loss would be a sign of decline. But while Likud may be down, it is certainly not out.

The net loss of Knesset seats notwithstanding, Likud actually grew in public support and appeal. Some 884,631 voters, or 31 mandates’ worth, put Likud’s election slip in the ballot box. That’s up from 758,032, or 27 mandates’ worth in the previous election. While technically choosing the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu slate, these voters were showing support for Netanyahu and Likud. The indicted and absent Avigdor Liberman was probably far from their minds.

Due to the merger agreement between Yisrael Beytenu and Likud, only 20 of the 31 mandates won by the joint list go to the latter. By the next election, however, these 884,631 votes can be salvaged for Likud alone. More than that, Likud Beytenu’s initial showings in polls, in which it garnered 38, 39 and even over 40 mandates, demonstrate that 31 mandates is only the tip of the iceberg.

Retaining and growing beyond those 31 mandates first requires completing the merger with Yisrael Beytenu. If Yisrael Beytenu breaks off before the next elections, Likud would have a significantly reduced campaign fund. Yisrael Beytenu might also steal seats from Likud or worse, siphon off two mandates’ worth of votes without passing the threshold.

Completing the merger means both that Yisrael Beytenu MKs will be part of a united Likud faction and that they must compete in Likud primaries. But they must be given a fair shot in the competition.

Thrusting Beytenu candidates into primaries at the last minute, as occurred with several ex-Kadima MKs, would not be fair.

So the merger should be completed sooner rather than later. Beyond that, perhaps several of them, such as Uzi Landau, Yair Shamir and Liberman himself (assuming he is acquitted), could receive secure spots before the next election, as a one-time good-faith measure in order to secure the merger.

The second step is regaining those seven mandates which went to the Likud’s right flank. Those parties, in the form of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) and National Union, had garnered only seven mandates in the previous elections. This time, Bayit Yehudi-National Union and Strong Israel garnered 14 mandates’ worth of votes (though Strong Israel narrowly failed to pass the threshold). To retrieve these votes, Likud must secure its right-wing base.

That means anti-settlement actions must end. Voters who bolted for Bayit Yehudi won’t stand for it. It reinforces their distrust of Likud and leads them vote to Netanyahu’s Right to keep him in check, as many of them did with Yisrael Beytenu in 2009 and now with Bayit Yehudi.

As Netanyahu said toward the end of the first construction freeze, “we’ve done enough” to show our willingness to sacrifice.

So enough. Stop talking about a state for our enemies; stop destroying homes on property purchased in good faith; stop worrying about where Jewish youths set up tents, adopt the proposals of the Levy Report, allow free construction; complete what was started with E-1. With these moderate actions, Likud can rebuild the trust that has been lost with its traditional support base.

But foreign/territorial policy is only one side of the coin. The four mandates’ worth of voters that switched to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in the final days of the campaign do not appear to have been overly concerned with external affairs.

Polls suggest that they vacillated between Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Lapid, ultimately voting for the latter, meaning they too desired Netanyahu as prime minister. Believing Netanyahu’s leadership to be secure, they were free to follow Lapid’s dynamic leadership and domestic platform, something especially important in peacetime.

They wanted to stop subsidizing other sectors and lower housing costs, electoral reform and equality in the draft.

Netanyahu and Likud members have at various times referenced these, but not much has been accomplished.

After securing the Right, the next step is therefore moving toward the Center by presenting a proactive domestic platform capable of attracting voters more concerned with things like lowering taxes and the cost of living. The key is packaging them, including original initiatives, as a platform offering specific policy solutions.

Voters must be convinced that Likud will put its heart and soul into accomplishing them. This way, they won’t abandon the party when victory seems assured, but will instead pile on the votes to ensure the platform is executed, unhampered by other parties’ narrow interests.

Finally, Likud must revitalize itself as a movement by investing in its members: remaining in contact with them, holding activities for them and growing itself through public outreach and membership registration. Members pay membership fees, provide their contact information, expect invitations to activities, to be asked for their vote on election day and to volunteer during the campaign. They are an organization’s primary base of support.

Today, the Likud comprises about 120,000 members, more than any other party, but far too little for the leading party. Even worse, many of these are merely co-workers, friends and family of Central Committee members, branch chairman, Members of Knesset and their staff and vote contractors. Members are contacted by these actors ahead of internal elections, but that’s all. They are thus relegated to being the pawns of an internal actor. Instead, Likud must itself register new members and engage them.

With a concerted effort, Likud can have hundreds of thousands of new members who feel like they are part of a movement that is moving the nation forward toward a brighter future. They will tolerate disagreements with Netanyahu and other Likud MKs, even defend them, because they will be part of the team. They will not easily slip away to the latest trend.

If the Likud can once again become a real movement, unashamed of its commitment to the Land of Israel, with a real domestic platform, the 31 mandates obtained by the Likud Beytenu list will only be the starting point in restoring Likud to its former glory, providing Israel with solid leadership for years to come.

The writer was a candidate on the Likud Beytenu list.

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