Likud officials aren’t waiting for the election results. On Wednesday, following less than favorable polls, senior officials labeled the election campaign a failure, and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party’s poor showing in the polls ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
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“The Zionist Union will be larger than Likud after the election. This, it seems, is already a fact. The question is what the gap between the two will be. Even if we manage to form the next government, this campaign was a colossal failure. Netanyahu is primarily responsible,” said a senior Likud member.
“Everything went through him during this election season, and the situation isn’t good. The election campaign didn’t function. Netanyahu kept Likud ministers far from decisions,” the senior party figure said. “His excessive focus [on himself in the campaign] and his lack of faith in the party’s Knesset members prompted him to staff the campaign with people who haven’t proven themselves.”
Another Likud official said, “Netanyahu was shown to be a very weak card in this election. He decided to put himself at the front, and forgot that he has an excellent team of ministers and MKs behind him. The public hardly saw them. It turns out the public is weary of Netanyahu, but he didn’t think that was a good enough reason to scale back his presence in the campaign.”
But Likud members don’t think all is lost. “As of right now, Netanyahu is the only one who can forge an independent coalition based on the latest polls. Herzog will have to include Likud in his government if he’s asked to form a coalition, and Netanyahu has already said he won’t allow that,” said one party official.
In an attempt to reverse the party’s downward trend in the polls, Netanyahu decided to grant interviews to Channels 1 and 2, as well as the Walla website, after refusing to do so for weeks. He called on right-wing voters who have shifted to other parties to return to Likud to prevent the emergence of a left-wing government.
Other Likud officials suggested that Netanyahu debate Herzog, believing it could only improve Netanyahu’s image. One of Netanyahu’s associates said, “TV interviews can be decisive in turning the trend around. If it turns out that Netanyahu didn’t manage to convince the public and improve his standings in the polls, we might as well say congratulations to Tzipi and Bougie.”
Netanyahu doubled down Wednesday on his opposition to a national unity government. After vowing previously that he wouldn’t form such a coalition, he declared he would not serve as prime minister in a rotation with Isaac Herzog. Addressing the idea of dividing the prime minister’s tenure, he said in his Channel 2 interview, “I don’t think there’s such an option. I don’t intend to do it, because I think there is a clear choice here between two paths. I will not be prime minister in a rotation, and that should be prevented.”
Regarding the recent polls, which show Likud running three seats behind Zionist Union, Netanyahu said there was a chance he won’t be prime minister again. “If we don’t close the gaps in the coming days, there’s definitely a danger that Bougie Herzog and Tzipi Livni will be the prime ministers,” but said he would win if enough of his supporters get out and vote.
Netanyahu declined to say he would leave politics if he is unable to form a government after Tuesday’s balloting. But behind the scenes, Likud members are already jostling to be the heir apparent.
“There are enough candidates in Likud who aren’t excited about the prospect of an election win, and who are actually waiting for Netanyahu to lose, in the hope of inheriting his place and running for prime minister in the next election,” said one party member.