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Will Vote-Buying Return to the Likud?

This is a translation from the front page article in today’s Ma’ariv newspaper. Apparently, Netanyahu is afraid of an internal coup within his own party, and he’s changing the rules of the game, yet again, in order to stave off opposition.
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Changes in the Likud Constitution that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s associates are suggesting would expand the number of party members and allow many of them to vote in the upcoming months – seemingly, with the purpose of strengthening Netanyahu’s position against his detractors.

MerkazThe Likud Knesset “Rebels” and Likud activists against the proposed building freeze in Judea and Samaria have been gathering signatures in the past few days in order to bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan up for a vote in the Likud Central Committee. However, Netanyahu is aware that in the Likud Central Committee as well as among the party members, there is considerable representation for those who live in Judea and Samaria, as well as Moshe Feiglin’s people, the man of the Right. He’s interested in avoiding the type of confrontation that erupted between former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Central Committee during the period the Gaza Disengagement was approved. For this reason, the Prime Minister’s allies are today working in parallel to open the electorate and allow new members to join the Likud.

“If we don’t open the lines right now, Feiglin’s men could start to gain control of the local Likud branches,” a senior cabinet minister and Netanyahu associate said. “We are already very concerned that the Feiglinites will get control of the Jerusalem branch. If they succeed, the pressure on Knesset members will be enormous. Everybody starts thinking about his own primary campaign, and Netanyahu starts to lose control of the faction.”

The reason for the hubbub surrounding the size of the electorate is that elections for the Likud Congress, Central Committee, and party branches are around the corner. Netanyahu’s men intend to open it for a short period of 2 or 3 months, in that way ensuring a wide electorate. Additionally, they intend to temporarily nullify a chapter in the Likud Constitution that a party member may only vote in internal elections after 16 months of membership in the party. That way, Netanyahu’s men can bring new members into the party and dilute the influence of men from the Right, Feiglin, and the Judea and Samaria Council within Likud’s institutions.

They Don’t Belong

As of now, there are about 100,000 Likud members, and it is estimated that 15,000 of them belong to Feiglin and the settlement camp. The decision concerning the Constitutional changes and the cancellation of the 16 month “cooling period” are supposed to be brought for the approval of the Likud Central Committee, which is expected to convene immediately after the holidays in order to set the next elections for the Likud Congress. However, the Likud Secretariat is already convening this coming Thursday. According to several sources, the head of the Secretariat, Yisrael Katz, wants to pass a decision – even if its implication is only advisory – to cancel the clause requiring 16 months membership. Regardless, sources close to Katz are denying that there is any intention to do such a thing, and are reiterating that any change is up to the Central Committee.

Likud activist and member of the Secretariat Yitzhak Nimrodi, who began the campaign for the 16-month clause, said yesterday that Katz is deliberating with other members of the Secretariat to check their positions on the matter. “Where will they open up party membership? Only in poor neighborhoods where they can buy them off,” said Nimrodi, who initiated the clause back then in order to prevent the phenomenon of fictitious voters that blossomed in the days of Sharon. “These people, who don’t belong in the Likud, we won’t be seeing a single vote from them during elections.”

Knesset member Yariv Levine, who belongs to the so-called Likud “rebels,” sent a letter to Katz. “I know that they’re telling Netanyahu that this move will dilute the more ideological wing of the party, but in my opinion it is in his interest to oppose the move,” he said. “The 16-month law cleaned the Likud ranks from corruption.” Netanyahu’s associate, the senior government minister, said otherwise. “Whoever doesn’t support our move wants to be held captive to small interest groups. Those who oppose opening the voting ranks can’t explain it as anything other than a deal with Moshe Feiglin.

Ironically, the forces whose influence in the Likud Netanyahu’s men are currently trying to dilute are the same forces that led the campaign in the Central Committee for a referendum over the Disengagement. Netanyahu led the rebellion back then against Sharon, and enlisted all the political strength he could muster in order to bring the opponents of the Disengagement their victory in that referendum. But back then, Sharon decided to go forward without the Central Committee’s approval anyway.

Disengagement: Success or Failure?

Moof MoofWho stands for what, exactly? PM Netanyahu, even though he voted for the disengagement back in 2005, and then resigned from the government because of it (he’s always so consistent) came out today saying that it was, in fact, a catastrophe and it won’t happen again. On the other side, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, along with her number 2 Shaul Mofaz, reiterated their support for what they both termed a “historic process.”

The good thing about this is that we can start to see clear differences between Likud and Kadima now, whereas Kadima’s ideology has always been a point of ambiguity. With Labor quickly dying out and splitting in the meantime, Kadima may be basically the new Labor. Livni even went so far as to say that Netanyahu was implying a return to Gush Katif in the strip. Realistically speaking, it is doubtful whether Netanyahu actually meant that. As a matter of fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb here (it’s a fairly sturdy limb) and say that Livni was just trying to paint her former Likud party as “Extreme Right Wing” and herself as the pragmatic centrist that, what the heck – she’ll gladly go for another round of unilateral withdrawals.

Mofaz came out indirectly in support of future disengagements as well. He called it, an “historic process that helped keep many Israeli citizens out of harm’s way and gave the army the freedom to act against the terror organizations and the Iranians’ hold on Gaza.”

Uhhh….OK then. Do you think Mofaz is going to break away and join Likud now, with the Mofaz Bill all done and passed (which would allow him to break away from Kadima with 6 other legislators)? With those kinds of positions, I doubt Likud members would vote him in at primary time next round.

So then what will the Mofaz Bill accomplish, if not bait him to join Bibi? Splitting Labor and hurting his own coalition seems like a reasonable possibility.

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