Things are getting sticky for Israeli Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu. An increasing number of reports indicate that the infighting in the Likud party he leads has been rampant as coalition negotiations enter the last leg. Coalition agreements that have already been signed have caused an uproar among opponents, but also discomfort within the Likud itself.
In the November election, Netanyahu and the Likud emerged as victorious with a clear-cut result which could see Israel headed to its most right-wing government in its 75-year history. The Likud gained 32 of 120 Knesset seats. Its next most senior party is half of its size, with the rest significantly smaller.
Netanyahu has led the Likud since 2005. The party’s undisputed leader, his popularity is rarely contested. He also holds the title of Israel’s longest serving prime minister, surpassing the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.
However, Netanyahu’s latest victory, after a series of elections in which he was unable to form a coalition, finds the leader weakened. Amid a trial on several corruption charges, his political future and fitness to lead has been questioned not only by opposing parties, but also by members of his own party and political bloc.
Ran Levi has been a member of the Likud for decades and a member of its central committee. A vociferous opponent of Netanyahu, he believes the leader has outstayed his welcome.
“I am hoping and anticipating the end of his term, either legally or by someone in the party who will oust him,” said Levi, who adds that he is not sure Netanyahu will be able to form a government.
Most people want to see him go, but he is willing to pay any price in order to guarantee his survival
Netanyahu received the mandate to form a government a month ago. He has until Sunday to present his coalition, after which he can ask for a two-week extension from Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.
The Likud already has signed coalition agreements with some of its partners and many portfolios have been allocated. The agreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties have not been finalized yet. This has the Likud simmering, with many of its senior members feeling like they will be given the leftovers even though they come from the largest party in the Knesset, or parliament.
“There are a lot of members who are not satisfied,” said Levi. “Most people want to see him go, but he is willing to pay any price in order to guarantee his survival.”
The finance, internal security, interior and transportation ministries are only some of the portfolios promised to coalition partners.
“He should have handled the negotiations much more firmly,” said Roni Rimon, a strategic adviser and partner at the public relations firm Rimon Cohen & Co. “The Likud is left with almost no portfolios. He shouldn’t have gone to such lengths to please his partners at any price.”
Netanyahu’s coalition partners do not have a real alternative other than forming a government with the Likud. The seasoned politician could have strong-armed them, leaving more for members of his own party and quieting the home-front.
“Netanyahu presumes that it is easier for him to deal with dissatisfaction within the Likud than dissent from his coalition partners,” said Rimon. “He has done this in previous coalition negotiations, satisfying his partners at the expense of his party.”
Netanyahu needs an extension from Herzog for more reasons than simply to figure out how to pacify members of his own party. In order for him to appoint certain ministers, he needs new legislation. For example, in order to give the ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Aryeh Deri a ministerial position, the law that bars someone with a suspended sentence from being a minister needs to be amended. Furthermore, a law that gives the parliament the ability to override Supreme Court rulings is needed in order to prevent expected petitions to the court against Deri’s appointment.
Some of the coalition agreements show extreme creativity and political summersaulting as ministries have been dismantled and authorities have been dispersed.
In order to appease his coalition partners from the far-right, Netanyahu also agreed to the creation of a “National Jewish Identity” authority. The body will be in the Prime Minister’s Office, but will be headed by Avi Maoz, an extreme-right-wing politician and head of the Noam party who has a history of anti-gay rhetoric. Critics voiced concern over possible anti-LGBTQ content that would be approved by the new body, which will take certain authorities away from the education ministry, including having a say on extra-curricular content.
Mayors from around the country, some of them Likud supporters, this week said they would not allow the authority to intervene in school curriculums.
Netanyahu was quick to reassure the LGBTQ community that the status quo in the country on such issues would not change.
Yet, it seems that he will go to great lengths to secure his coalition.
While no Likud parliament member was willing to comment to The Media Line about Netanyahu and his coalition-forming efforts, reports in the media and leaked recordings show increasing dismay with Netanyahu. However, it is unlikely that a significant threat to his power in the party will emerge.
Netanyahu presumes that it is easier for him to deal with dissatisfaction within the Likud than dissent from his coalition partners. He has done this in previous coalition negotiations, satisfying his partners at the expense of his party.
Netanyahu’s hold on the Likud is strong. Past attempts by members to replace him were resounding failures. His control over the party institutions has helped fortify his position for years.
“As long as he holds such power, it will be difficult for someone to run against him,” said Levi, who claims people are afraid to challenge Netanyahu.
“Likud members understood that opposing Netanyahu is easier said than done,” said Rimon. “They prefer to give support and to display loyalty to the leader, even if he slaps you, because that is what Likud voters expect from their representatives.”
According to Levi, there is already “a lot of bitterness within the party. When the government will be formed there will be even more members of the Likud who are disappointed who will eventually pose an internal opposition to Netanyahu.”
Likud members of parliament who openly spoke out against Netanyahu’s handling of the coalition agreement in recent weeks have since backtracked and voiced their support for him.
“Netanyahu is the undisputed leader of the Likud,” tweeted party lawmaker David (Dudi) Amsalem, days after giving an interview in which he criticized his party leader. Israeli media reported Amsalem was part of a group of Likud legislators who planned to negotiate with Netanyahu as a bloc in order to improve their position and get senior roles. “There will be no rebels and no factions within factions, we are all together,” he added.
Despite such denial, rogue members could give the Likud leader a hard time in passing legislation he desperately needs in order to implement his plans.
“Netanyahu’s time is over. The Likud needs a change and he needs to resign because of his legal situation,” said Levi. This sentiment is still not openly expressed by many.