When the Likud's computers spit out the party's slate for the 18th Knesset tonight, it will leave in its wake a long list of people who are bitter and hungry for revenge. All of them will have a single target: party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. The man of whom Ariel Sharon once said, "I don't know whom to help - your right hand or your left hand," has been digging deep with both hands into every corner of the Likud's list in recent days.
Instead of confining himself to general statements, or to support for a mere two or three specific candidates, Netanyahu is up to his neck in the swamp of political deals, and is clashing openly with sitting MKs and other candidates. Some of the former are so angry with him for neglecting them in favor of candidates who are newcomers to the party that they are working night and day to help Moshe Feiglin's candidates, whom Netanyahu wants to keep off the list. "If we are kept out of the Knesset by him, at least let him suffer," explained one.
Likud sources say the "Feiglin coalition" is growing day by day and hour by hour. Its members include not only the candidates slighted by Netanyahu, but also Kadima Party members who are gleefully stirring the pot.
On one hand, Netanyahu's behavior is understandable: A list that is too right-wing will play into Kadima's hands and cost him votes. On the other hand, what are the sitting MKs who remained loyal to him during the party's darkest days, or the activists who worked their hearts out for him, to think when they discover that he has publicly ordered his people to work for the election of Assaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan, for whom "Likud" was a dirty word up until the moment they jumped on its bandwagon?
To Likud members, the real stars are not Dayan or Hefetz, but Gideon Sa'ar, who bore the wounded faction on his back during its years in opposition; Reuven Rivlin, who returned Benny Begin to the party; Gilad Erdan, who proved an outstanding legislator; Silvan Shalom, who demonstrated both restraint and responsibility by scrupulously maintaining his cease-fire with Netanyahu; and many other faction members. How are they inferior to Dayan and Hefetz, whom Netanyahu is recommending? Were it not for the faction members, it is doubtful that Netanyahu would be entering this campaign in such a strong position and with such optimistic poll numbers.
Netanyahu would undoubtedly say that he had no choice: Anyone who appeared beside him at a press conference had to receive his public support; that was the deal. But Netanyahu also knows that tomorrow morning, Kadima will be brandishing the Likud list and ticking off names: Begin, a rightist. Moshe Ya'alon, a rightist. Rivlin, a rightist. Sa'ar, a rightist. Erdan, a rightist. Yisrael Katz, a rightist. Limor Livnat, a rightist. Yuli Edelstein, a rightist. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a rightist. Yechiel Leiter, yet another rightist. And so on and so forth. Therefore, Netanyahu needs Dan Meridor and Hefetz and Dayan, and some others, in order to present a more centrist list.
From Netanyahu's perspective, this is a question of political life and death. But the same is true for the candidates. And this time, what means life to him means death to them - and vice versa.
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