Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu Expected to Soon Go Their Separate Ways

Party sources say the split is likely, while coalition partners Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi are demanding more power.

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will soon hold separate discussions on whether to end their political partnership, with sources in both parties expecting a split despite the wishes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yisrael Beiteinu's central committee will meet to discuss the split on November 24, while a Likud vote on the issue is due at the beginning of December.

In October 2012 the heads of the two parties, Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, said they would run together on a joint slate in the Knesset election the following January. Lieberman was No. 2 on the ticket after Netanyahu.

The idea was to guarantee that Netanyahu would remain prime minister and form a stabile government. Netanyahu's election consultant Arthur Finkelstein predicted that the joint slate would win some 45 Knesset seats; people close to Lieberman talked about 50. But the ticket won only 31 seats, compared with the 42 the two parties held in the previous Knesset - 27 for Likud and 15 for Yisrael Beiteinu.

The alliance stoked anger among senior Likud politicians, both because of the historic change and the high price the party ostensibly paid; Yisrael Beiteinu received a raft of key positions. The link-up also made Lieberman the politician with the most influence on Netanyahu. Yisrael Beiteinu politicians blame the electoral failure on the alliance, saying it led to the abandonment of a number of the party's major causes, like making Israeli citizenship conditional on a loyalty oath.

Netanyahu lost his grip on Likud institutions in the party's last internal elections and will have a hard time pushing some of his views through. The president of the Likud convention, MK Danny Danon, has said "only Likudniks will determine the fate of the Likud movement." In addition, the Likud presidium decided to hold a policy discussion on the party's position on the talks with the Palestinians and the release of prisoners.

Meanwhile, Lieberman's return to the Foreign Ministry is causing a "mini coalition crisis," one senior Likud official said. In the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett complained that no ministers from Yisrael Beiteinu would have to give up their posts - the party will actually be gaining a minister.

Lapid and Bennett both demand compensation for their parties; Yesh Atid wants to make one of its MKs, Ofer Shelah, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which Lieberman chaired until now. Yesh Atid also wants to add Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry to the security cabinet.

Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party demands the chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, currently headed by Yisrael Beiteinu, or the chairmanship of the Education, Culture and Sports Committee, currently headed by Hatnuah.

The prime minister and his aides have been working hard in recent days to end the tension caused by Lieberman's acquittal and return to the Foreign Ministry, said the senior Likud source. Netanyahu does not intend to agree to Lapid's demands, the source added. Likud MK Zeev Elkin has been mentioned as the leading candidate to replace Lieberman at the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; with Lieberman's return, Elkin is leaving his position as deputy foreign minister.

Reuters