In blow to Netanyahu, settler leader leaves Likud for New Hope Party

Elhayani: Netanyahu rejected Likud values; New Hope the home for those who believe in a Likud with the values of Begin and Shamir.

Yesha Council head David Elhayani and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud campaign rally in 2019. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yesha Council head David Elhayani and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud campaign rally in 2019.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for right-wing support, Yesha Council head David Elhayani has left the Likud for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party.
“I’m joining New Hope. I believe in Gideon Sa’ar, and I support him to head the government,” said Elhayani, who also heads the Jordan Valley Regional Council.
“I call on all the residents of Judea and Samaria to join me in voting for New Hope,” he said.
Elhayani is a longtime Likud member. Netanyahu made him one of the centerpieces of his election campaign last summer when he ran in the second of the four Israeli elections since December 2018.
Elhayani’s decision to leave the Likud comes after Netanyahu failed to make good on his first pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and his second pledge to annex all West Bank settlements.
He broke with Netanyahu in January 2020 when the prime minister threw his support behind US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which called for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Further breaches occurred with respect to his failure to move forward on annexation.
Until Tuesday, Elhayani had hesitated to leave the Likud. In the last election, the Likud was the most popular party among the settlers, but it hardly represented the majority.
Netanyahu had rejected the values of the Likud Party and the principled positions held by some of its more storied members, such as former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, Elhayani said in a statement.
“You know me,” he said in remarks directed at the residents of Judea and Samaria. “I will always remain faithful to my values. It is Netanyahu who has left the values of the Likud... I will always remain faithful to the values of the national camp.”
Netanyahu “was the one who declared that there are two states for two peoples” and “set the boundaries of a Palestinian terrorist state at 70% of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank],” Elhayani said. He has not “regulated the young settlements [outposts] and has frozen settlements,” he added.
“Netanyahu deceived me and all the Jordan Valley residents when he promised to apply Israeli sovereignty there first and then didn’t keep his word,” Elhayani said, adding that a right-wing prime minister does not behave this way.
“I have good friends in the Likud,” Elhayani said. “I love and embrace them. It’s hard to leave [a political] home, a home I so love. But Netanyahu has destroyed it.”
In 1996, he said, Shamir also left the Likud as a protest statement against Netanyahu, whom he opposed. He rejoined only when Netanyahu lost the prime ministerial election in 1999.
The most suitable political home for those who believe in a Likud with the values of Begin and Shamir is Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, Elhayani said.
“I believe in Gideon Sa’ar’s leadership and in his loyalty to the values of the national camp,” he said. “He is the most suitable [politician] to lead Israel at this time.”
ELHAYANI’S STATEMENT marks Netanyahu’s latest challenge in maintaining the right-wing vote, including the settler vote.
His hold on settler votes has always been tenuous. Last April, Netanyahu garnered 30% of the votes settlers cast, followed by Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett, who received 23%. Netanyahu has not always been the most popular candidate in the settlements, and securing settlers’ votes has always been difficult for him.
In this election cycle, the battle is likely to be particularly stiff. Unlike other election cycles since 2018, none of the top right-wing candidates have pledged to support West Bank annexation. All three – Netanyahu, Bennett and Sa’ar – have said they would respect Israel’s pledge to suspend annexation plans in exchange for the Abraham Accords.
But Bennett and Sa’ar, himself a former Likud politician, are on the right of Netanyahu on many issues. In particular, they both support Israel’s retention of all of Area C of the West Bank, whereas Netanyahu has accepted that portions of that territory would become part of a future Palestinian state.
Bennett and Sa’ar, both of whom are strong shoe-leather politicians, have been frequent visitors to the settlements. Bennett also has a strong history with the settlements and served as the Yesha Council’s director-general.
Elhayani’s decision to publicly throw his support behind Sa’ar will likely strengthen the New Hope Party head among right-wing and settler voters.
Former Yesha Council head Dani Dayan threw his support behind Sa’ar as well and is running for the Knesset as a member of the New Hope Party.
The challenge for all three men – Netanyahu, Bennett and Sa’ar – is to maintain right-wing votes while simultaneously attempting to sway centrist and even left-wing voters to support them. This is particularly critical for Bennett and Sa’ar, who might need to form a coalition without either the Likud or the religious parties.
Elhayani’s decision revealed the true nature of the New Hope Party, Meretz MK Yair Golan said.
“It’s an extreme right-wing party that will annex the West Bank under the auspices of ‘anyone but Bibi,’” he said.