Iran is not the only existential threat that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must cope with these days. Next Sunday’s Likud election threatens his control over the party’s governing institutions and the making of policy.
The elections are widely expected to consolidate the power of the party’s right wing.
“As it appears at the moment, Netanyahu has lost [control of] the governing institutions,” a senior Likud source told Haaretz. “He knows well that today’s Likud is already not in his pocket. Its positions have moved to the right, and not just on diplomatic issues. And the link-up with [Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman in the January Knesset election], which did not justify itself, engendered a lot of hatred of Netanyahu.”
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon is expected to capture the leadership positions of party chairman and chairman of the central committee. Fellow right winger Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin is a strong candidate for chairmanship of the party bureau, which sets policy.
“Netanyahu has come to grips with the results,” a leading Likud figure said on Monday. “He has decided to withdraw his [own] candidacy as chairman of the party’s central committee, which he badly wanted, to avoid being humiliated in the vote and losing to Danon.”
On Tuesday night, Danon offered a glimpse of what lies in store.
“The party has been in a coma lately,” Danon told his supporters in a pep talk at a rally in Tel Aviv. “We will help lift up the Likud with energy like it had when I was a child. We will restore the party’s soul.”
Danon restated his fierce opposition to trading land for peace, and mocked foes on the left.
“The weak left doesn’t know how to deal with ideas, principles or ideology,” Danon told the activists. “To maintain the Land of Israel, we need to do it with political work. We cannot afford to sit on our hands.”
At the same time, however, Danon offered words of reassurance to Netanyahu, saying that he would not use the central committee to act against him personally, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Much of the dissatisfaction with Netanyahu is purely political pragmatism. As the chairman of the Likud’s Ashdod branch, Shlomo Portal, put it: “Netanyahu today is not an asset, he’s a burden on the Likud.
“In the last election, we lost 25 percent of our support because of him, after he joined up with Yisrael Beiteinu. In the main headquarters, they didn’t look at us. We ran our own election campaign and got 43.3 percent of the vote. We want to build, but Netanyahu continues to tear down.”
Ethnicity plays a role in the party unrest, as well. “It can’t be that all the people in his office are Ashkenazim, not even Likudnikim. From his point of view, we are slaves,” Portal said.