Likud activists campaign to avoid election

Periphery mayors beg Netanyahu, Gantz for unity.

Protesters who support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Protesters who support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
A group of leading Likud activists began a campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday under the slogan “We love you, Netanyahu, but we will prevent a third election.”
The campaign is based on the 1993 Jerusalem mayoral race of Likud candidate Ehud Olmert against legendary mayor Teddy Kollek. Olmert’s slogan was “We love Teddy, but we are voting Olmert.”
The activists turned to all 32 Likud MKs asking them to gather the 61 MKs necessary to form a government and prevent an election that they fear will result in a Likud loss and a new peace process that will endanger the Land of Israel. They purposely are not supporting any particular candidate, just “any right-wing MK.”
“We realize that if Netanyahu didn’t succeed in forming a government after the first two elections, he definitely won’t after an indictment,” said Natan Engelsman, the head of the Likud’s Mateh Binyamin branch. “The initiative is cooking and trickle up. The MKs are gradually internalizing that the Netanyahu era is over, but it has to come from the field.”
Engelsman said the effort is particularly strong in the periphery, which has been harmed by there not being a government.
“We have gotten a wonderful response across the country, but not yet from MKs,” Engelsman said. “I think they will eventually come out of their holes.”
In further pressure, the Forum of Mayors of the Gaza Periphery wrote a letter on Thursday to Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz asking them to “Take responsibility and take action: Display leadership and build a unity government.”
The negotiating teams of Likud and Blue and White will meet on Sunday with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has taken upon himself to mediate between the parties. They will discuss a proposal to have Netanyahu remain prime minister for a few months, then Gantz for two years, followed by whoever will head Likud.
Netanyahu told mayors from Judea and Samaria on Thursday that it was wrong to blame him for a unity government not being formed. He said the blame belonged to Blue and White’s No. 2, MK Yair Lapid.
Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar called on Netanyahu to invite Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to discuss the formation of a right-wing government. In an interview with on Army Radio, Zohar suggested that Liberman should rotate as prime minister with Netanyahu.
In an interview with the Russian-language Radio Reka (Israel Radio International), Liberman declared that he was ready to join a right-wing haredi (ultra-Orthodox) government and form a stable 63-member coalition – if Netanyahu was willing to pressure the ultra-Orthodox parties to settle on a number of religious and state issues.
“Netanyahu is not prepared to pressure the haredim to move in our direction,” Liberman lamented. “He’s also not ready to be separated from them. This is the main obstacle to forming a coalition.”
His remarks contradict earlier statements that the only option he would consider is a unity government. Liberman said his constituents cared about conversions, civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbat, but “Netanyahu is not prepared to give us anything.”
He added that he did not want to enter into a debate between Netanyahu and Blue and White about who would serve first in any rotation.
“Netanyahu could agree that Gantz will serve first, and in the meantime take time to handle his legal matters,” he said.
Likud, Shas and United Torah Judaism reacted to Liberman’s statements by saying that they had looked into whether he was serious and determined that he was not, and that he had merely started his campaign for the third election.
Alex Winston and Anna Rayva Barsky contributed to this report.