Israel’s Netanyahu Faces Problems From Within
Likud party lawmakers are threatening to challenge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's agenda, but he is still too strong to be replaced
Some of the lawmakers from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party are threatening to block a bill to bring back Shas party leader Aryeh Deri after he was banned from serving as a government minister by the country’s Supreme Court due to his former conviction on tax offenses. There are also lawmakers from the party who have expressed discontent about the smaller than expected number of portfolios that Likud members received in the current government coalition. These rumbles show a certain level of discontent toward Netanyahu, the long-time leader of the Likud, among party members.
The coalition currently holds 64 of the120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Of those, 32 seats belong to Netanyahu’s Likud Party; the Religious Zionism coalition, which is made up of the Religious Zionist, Jewish Power and Noam parties, holds 14 seats; and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Torah Judaism parties have 11 seats and 7 seats, respectively. In order to maintain the coalition, which depends on each and every one of these parties to remain in place, Netanyahu gave a large number of government minister portfolios to them and promised to fulfill some of the critical elements in their agendas.
Reportedly, the government currently is working on a bill that aims to take away the power that allows the Supreme Court to rule that Deri cannot serve as a cabinet minister and in that way bring him back to the Cabinet. But Israel’s Channel 12 news reported on Wednesday that some Likud lawmakers are threatening to block the bill.
Professor Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that he believes these reports may be true. He says that the lawmakers’ motivation is based on the fact that creating such a law just to bring Deri back could play badly with Likud voters.
Dr. Yonatan Freeman, of the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, agrees with this assessment. “I think that one of the major factors that might be impacting some who might oppose such a bill is how it will be accepted or taken in by the Israeli public,” he told The Media Line. “They will maybe think that it hurts the prospects of the Likud party in the future and therefore fewer of them will be getting in.”
If there are more public opinion polls that indicate that the public opposes this bill or opposes Deri’s return, Freeman adds, “I think this will be something that might influence more opposition among members of the Likud party.”
Right now, he is far too strong both in the Likud and with the Israeli public to be challenged
Rynhold says that if Deri does not come back to the Cabinet then it “means the position of the Likud in the coalition is slightly better than if he does come back.” He says that it is not clear whether there are enough Likud lawmakers who object to the bill to actually block it, but that four or five lawmakers “is enough and it will make the prime minister nervous.”
Netanyahu can prevent this from happening if he gives some of them the important portfolios they desire, according to Rynhold. Still, he notes, it is unlikely that Netanyahu will do so since he already has a very large Cabinet.
Likud lawmaker David Bitan told Army Radio on Wednesday that Netanyahu will “pay the price” if he does not give veteran Likud lawmaker David Amsalem a ministerial post in the current government. Both Bitan and Amsalem rose up through the Likud party ranks starting in local politics and have a strong base among the party faithful.
All this, says Rynhold, might cause antagonism toward Netanyahu among his own party members.
According to the professor, the consequences will not be seen in the short term but, rather, over a longer period of time. “It feeds into the feeling in the Likud that the party’s members of the Knesset got a bad deal out of the coalition agreement,” he said.
Rynhold explains that some other parties in the Knesset refused to join a coalition with Netanyahu as its leader, but would have joined with the Likud if it was headed by a different person. “So, a different coalition not headed by Netanyahu, but headed by someone else in the Likud would have meant more ministries for the Likud,” he said.
A senior party official told The Media Line that, as of now, the Likud party supports Netanyahu. “We won dramatically in a very good position with a very good result [in the elections]. Netanyahu takes us in the right direction and therefore there is no competition,” he said.
Rynhold also warns that Netanyahu currently is too powerful to be contested. “Right now, he is far too strong both in the Likud and with the Israeli public to be challenged,” he said, adding that “there are rumblings because there is a feeling that maybe, going forward, they would be better off without him.”
However, in order for that to happen Netanyahu needs to lose popularity with the Israeli public and his fellow Likud members would need to feel that they can do better without him.
That is why Rynhold believes that it is still too early to say if this is indeed the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s political career.