The September 2019 election campaign continued on Sunday to be about the day after the election, as a Likud loyalty pledge to back Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in leading the next government dominated the political news.
The top forty Likud candidates reportedly signed a statement saying they would stand by Netanyahu in post-election coalition-making, a move that came in response to Avigdor Liberman’s declaration that he would seek out a different Likud leader if the premier rejected his urgings for a unity government made up of Likud, Blue and White, and Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.
“We, the undersigned, candidates for Likud for the 22nd Knesset, emphasize that we will not be dictated to by any other party. Regardless of the election results, prime minister and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate for prime minister — and there will be no other candidate,” the pledge stated.
But senior Likud members were quoted by Channel 12 on Sunday evening as indicating that the pledge should not be taken as a suicide pact.
One source said that in the event coalition talks become deadlocked, as they were after the April elections, they would have to “make difficult decisions,” implying that their loyalty to Netanyahu has its limits.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was among those professing loyalty, not just on paper. After Liberman suggested that Edelstein was a likely replacement for Netanyau, the speaker declared that Netanyahu the “sole Likud candidate for prime minister.”
Edelstein (Likud) and his emissaries have been discussing the future of Likud with ministers and MKs, and in particular the possibility that he might be Netanyahu’s successor, according to Arutz Sheva. But Edelstein emphasized that he has no intention of forcing Netanyahu out, and is not “engaged in this nonsense at all,” that it’s only about when the PM decides to step down, whenever that will be.
Another sign of the shakiness of support for Netanyahu, could be discerned in the remarks by United Right leader Ayelet Shaked, who told Ynet on Sunday that her party would recommend Netanyahu to President Rivlin because he is the leader of the right-wing bloc “at the moment.”
However, in the same interview she echoed criticism made by Avigdor Liberman over the weekend of Netanyahu’s right-wing record, pointing out that he has officially endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state, and agreed to release “1,000 terrorists” in the deal to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
Asked whom she would recommend to form the next government, Shaked said “we will recommend the right-wing candidate for prime minister, which today looks like Binyamin Netanyahu.”
The opposition parties have, of course, been making political capital out of the Likud loyalty pledge.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid confirmed that his party was in talks with Likud members about a leadership switch.
The Likud accused Blue and White’s leaders of jealousy: “Lapid and Gantz, who are constantly working against each other, and Labor, which changes chairmen every two weeks, can only envy Likud members who stand behind the party chairman,” it said in a statement.
“Their frustration is understandable: The plot to replace Netanyahu after the election finally collapsed today,” the Likud statement added.
Amir Peretz tweeted that “Netanyahu’s paranoia has crossed all reasonable lines. Likud went from a national liberal party to a party prostrating to one man.”
Labor-Gesher hung huge signs Sunday in central Tel Aviv, which read: “Likud is committed to Bibi – we’re committed to human beings.”