Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealed to Likud central committee members ahead of the vote on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list on Monday, as Government Services Minister Michael Eitan worked to stop the merger.
Meanwhile, polls on Channels 2 and 10 painted different pictures of the joint list’s electoral value, though both found Labor would be the second-biggest party with 23 Knesset seats in the election were held now. The former showed “Likud Beytenu” maintaining its current combined 42 Knesset seats and the right-wing bloc getting five seats more than the Center- Left. Channel 10’s poll gave the united list 35 seats, with a four-seat advantage to the Right over the Center- Left.
The numbers came ahead of any public campaign by the joint list, with the exception of banners on Netanyahu’s Facebook page, and amid media reports that senior Likud officials oppose the merger.
In a recorded message sent to the committee members, Netanyahu said the proposed venture “leaves Likud as an independent party that will continue in its path protecting Israeli security, the Land of Israel and Jewish tradition.”
“Running together on one slip of paper will ensure the Likud continues to powerfully lead the State of Israel,” he added. “Let’s vote in favor, because the State of Israel needs a strong Likud.”
Later on Sunday, the prime minister met with Likud mayors and chairmen of local party chapters to encourage them to approve the “Likud Beytenu” list, calling it “an early coalition” that would not change the parties’ respective ideologies.
Eitan continued his campaign to prevent the united list from being authorized by the committee, announcing plans to gather the requisite 400 signatures need to hold a vote by secret ballot. The signatures must come from committee meetings present at the Monday evening meeting, and as such, cannot be gathered in advance.
Earlier on Sunday, Eitan was the only one to voice opposition to the merger in the Likud ministers’ meeting.
Netanyahu promised Eitan he would show him a copy of his agreement with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman ahead of the vote. The two party chairmen have yet to compose a written agreement.
Eitan protested that the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu “do not have a joint ideology” and that the united list “gives Liberman the seeds to take over the Likud.” He also said the joint list would receive fewer seats in the Knesset than if they ran separately.
Though he was silent in the Likud ministers meeting, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, No. 2 on the current Likud list, came out against Yisrael Beytenu without mentioning the party’s name at a memorial ceremony for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“Unfortunately, there is a growing number of parties in Israel that do not have democratic elections to choose their representatives to the Knesset,” Sa’ar said. “When a party’s list is not chosen in a democratic process, its representatives are not committed to serving the public, but to the person who selected them.”
The prime minister told Likud ministers that he offered Liberman to be defense or finance minister, but Liberman preferred to remain in his current position.
Soon after, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz joked with reporters that he was not afraid of losing his job, and that Netanyahu and Liberman agreed that the latter would be foreign minister should “Likud Beytenu” win the election.
Late on Saturday night, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor denied reports that he was considering leaving the Likud, posting a photo on his Facebook profile of himself and three advisers in his kitchen.
“Despite the rumors, my staff and I are continuing to work ahead of the primary. Good night from Jerusalem,” he wrote.
On Sunday, Meridor reiterated that he was working on his primary campaign, and announced events in Haifa and in its bayside suburbs.
Later that day, rebel Kadima MK Yulia Shamolov Berkovich officially announced that she would run in the Likud primary on November 25, with Netanyahu’s blessing.
“I am happy that you are joining the Likud. It is natural, because you believe in the same things as us: security for Israel, the Land of Israel and Jewish tradition,” the prime minister told Shamolov Berkovich.
“I am sure you will contribute a lot to our party.”