Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for party unity, as the Likud gears up for a referendum among its central committee members on Thursday to determine whether Netanyahu can change the party’s constitution and delay elections for the party’s main institutions.
Hawkish opponents say that delaying the elections will lead to the partitioning of Jerusalem.
“This Thursday, the Likud’s central committee members will vote in ballots across the country on the timing of the [party’s] internal elections. It is very important that we have a reasonable amount of time to arrange registration and to assemble a convention,” Netanyahu told the Likud ministers during a meeting with them Sunday.
“On Tuesday I plan to hold a preparatory conference at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. I may also make time for additional conferences in Netanya, Jerusalem, Haifa and the South.
“I am dedicating valuable time to party issues because internal unity is vital in light of the internal and international challenges we are facing. Unity is the right thing for the movement, the right thing for government and the right thing for the state,” said the prime minister.
After months of legal battles within the party’s judicial institutions and in the courts, it’s up to Netanyahu get the two-thirds majority in the central committee needed to change the constitution, allowing him to defer internal elections and keep the party’s current power structure intact.
His opponents, those who want to see a reshuffling in the ranks, hope that new blood will see the party shift to the Right.
Netanyahu’s most outspoken opponent in the Likud is Manhigut Yehudit faction leader Moshe Feiglin, but he also faces opposition from new MKs eager to move up in the party and take over some of the key positions that would be up for grabs if the convention takes place.
Feiglin compared Netanyahu’s efforts at postponing the convention to Ariel Sharon’s decision to unilaterally pull out of Gaza.
“Sharon disengaged from Gush Katif and on the way destroyed the Likud, and Netanyahu is disengaging from Jerusalem and is acting to dismantle the Likud,” Feiglin said.
“The only difference between Sharon and Netanyahu is that Sharon first announced the disengagement and then began trampling everything on the way to his goal, while Netanyahu is doing things the other way around; first he disengages from Jerusalem by announcing the construction freeze, and only then acts politically to give legal standing to the things he’s already doing on the ground.
“Just like in the story of the emperor’s new clothes, Netanyahu is parading in the beautiful clothes of supposed loyalty to Jerusalem, while the naked truth is that new construction in Jerusalem has been completely frozen,” Feiglin said.
Sources in Feiglin’s camp said Netanyahu is afraid to hold elections because he knows he will likely lose power and influence in the party.
“Netanyahu is afraid that elections will see his people removed from key positions and that a new central committee will be more ideologically robust and prevent him from achieving his agenda,” said Amnon Zeliger, a Feiglin activist.
“Netanyahu is doing everything he can to get people to vote, because the assumption is the more people vote, the better chances he has of postponing the convention,” Zeliger added.
“That’s why he’s spending unprecedented amounts of money on dispersing ballot boxes around the country. He’s catering to the lazy people who can’t be bothered to make it to a central location. Those who are ideologically fired up, have no problem to make the effort and vote,” said Zeliger.
“The magic number is 1,000 committee members. If he gets more then that, he’s predicted to win, less and he’ll likely lose,” MK Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post. “He has the loyalty of the senior MKs and ministers who want to make sure they keep their positions, but there are many people, especially new MK and ministers, who want to see a change, want to see the party take a stronger ideological position.”
Danon said he, too, had reasons to want to delay the convention and the crucial elections, since he and his supporters were in the midst of a registration drive that would benefit from more time, but that he was more concerned with the party’s democratic nature.
“The constitution says there must be a convention every four years.
There is a clause that determines that conventions can’t take place in
election years. Now Netanyahu wants to extend it so there can’t be a
convention within three years of an election year.
“In practice this means there will never be elections. Netanyahu is
determined to postpone the convention in order to dilute the party’s
ideological base,” said Danon.
“Another reason he wants to postpone the convention is that he doesn’t
want his ministers to start expressing hawkish statements as they
battle for votes in the central committee. There is competition among
the MKs for party roles and the MKs know that if they want votes in the
committee they need to speak out against the settlement freeze and the
partitioning of Jerusalem.”
Danon said that Netanyahu’s own statements against the possibility of
the partitioning of the city, expressed in a televised interview last
week, were mere posturing before potential voters.