Disastrous Showing in Israel Election Throws Right Wing Into Turmoil

Listless Netanyahu Barely Got in Gear Until Election Day

Power Pair? His alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s party was supposed to give Benjamin Netanyahu an easy path to victory. It turned out to be a flop — and both may pay big price.
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Power Pair? His alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s party was supposed to give Benjamin Netanyahu an easy path to victory. It turned out to be a flop — and both may pay big price.

By Reuters

Published January 23, 2013.
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“It was very tense,” said a party member with knowledge of the gathering. “They finally realised it could all unravel.”

It held together, in the end, but the “victory” celebration at Likud’s cavernous Tel Aviv campaign headquarters was a sombre affair. Only a few hundred loyalists turned up, with loud bickering flaring over who or what to blame for the setback.

STROKE OF GENIUS?

Some openly questioned the wisdom of the union with Yisrael Beitenu, whose brash Soviet-born leader, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, alienated some Likud rank-and-file.

Likud stalwart Tzachi Hanegbi defended the alliance as “a genius thing to do, even though we lost some members” because it guaranteed Netanyahu the premiership by co-opting a major rival.

But Hanegbi told Reuters their apparent pre-election confidence appeared to have persuaded some Likud voters that they could safely shift support to Yesh Atid without jeopardising Netanyahu’s chances of remaining prime minister.

Describing Lapid as “secular, new, fresh,” Hanegbi conceded: “It is now going to be more difficult for us to establish a government.”

Doron Attias, a Likud Central Committee member, said the party had also lost votes rightward - to another political upstart, Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler, religious-nationalist Jewish Home, which came fourth in the ballot.

“I’m angry and I’m hurt,” Attias said, accusing settlers of betraying Netanyahu, who has expanded Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem - land the Palestinians demand for a future independent state.

“I think we should stop investing in Judea and Samaria,” Attias said, using the Biblical term for the West Bank.

Yet Netanyahu might himself have contributed to the Likud defections by accusing Bennett, an elite army commander, of encouraging insubordination after he voiced reluctance to take part in any future evacuations of West Bank settlements.

Likud campaigners also denounced the more radical views of some on the Jewish Home list - attacks that allowed Bennett to portray himself as victim of an electoral mugging.

“The attack pushed religious voters from the Likud to Bennett, and it pushed young right-wing, but non-religious voters, away from Bennett into Lapids arms,” wrote Nahum Barnea in the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Few Likud supporters criticised Netanyahu openly in the wake of their dismal showing - a reflection of the party’s tradition of rallying together, but also of the reality that the prime minister has no credible rival for the party leadership.

“Likudniks don’t trash other Likudniks in public,” Likud Central Committee member Dudu Hayyim warned fellow activists at the election headquarters as journalists hovered for quotes.


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