Billionaire and Netanyahu-ally Gaydamak to Start His Own Party

Polls commissioned by Russian-Israeli tycoon show party could win 25 seats; likely to merge with Likud.

Russian-Israeli billionaire businessman Arcadi Gaydamak has decided to establish his own political party that would deal only with social-economic issues, and is likely to make the announcement on Wednesday, Haaretz has learned.

Based on polls that Gaydamak commissioned over the last few weeks, including one conducted by the Geocartography polling company, he has decided that - with a proper focus on the party goals and close ties to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu - the party could win about 25 seats.

Gaydamak has coordinated plans for the party with Netanyahu, whom the businessman has previously supported as his preferred candidate for prime minister. In turn, Netanyahu appeared at a mass Hanukkah party that Gaydamak organized this year.

The Netanyahu-Gaydamak alliance has noticeably intensified recently, through a series of interviews that both gave to the Russian-language media, in which each has praised the other. Polls show Netanyahu's popularity to be rising by 17 percent among Russian speakers in the wake of the interviews.

Gaydamak has decided that the party will not have a political-security platform. He supports the market economy, increased taxation for high earners and a significantly stronger welfare state. Gaydamak's party is likely to eventually become part of the Likud.

The billionaire himself is apparently planning to serve as party chairman and control the party from the outside rather than serving in elected office, replicating the model of Shas - whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is not an elected official.

Gaydamak plans to put an emphasis on the needs of Russian speakers but not to appeal solely to those voters. He wants to translate his popularity in other sectors of the population - among Israeli Arabs, Bedouin, Druze and the ultra-Orthodox - into political power. Members of these communities are expected to be on the ticket, although Gaydamak has yet to name anyone as a candidate.

Indeed, the party Gaydamak plans to launch is set to help Netanyahu no less than Gaydamak. The billionaire has previously said that he is not personally interested in an active political life, but he wants to be the man who determines who becomes prime minister.

The party could also put pressure on Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, who is popular among his fellow Russian-speaking immigrants - but not as popular as Gaydamak, according to a recent Mutagim poll.