Though Binyamin Netanyahu will continue as Israel’s prime minister, the recent
election results constituted a serious blow to his party, the Likud.
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.
Typically such a loss would be a sign of
decline. But while Likud may be down, it is certainly not out.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
They wanted to stop subsidizing other sectors and lower
housing costs, electoral reform and equality in the draft.
Likud members have at various times referenced these, but not much has been
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
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
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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