Likud MKs Launch Campaigns Ahead of Early Elections, Sources Say

Israel's Knesset is expected to vote to dissolve itself next week, with the dissolution taking effect less than two weeks after the summer session began.

Likud MKs have already begun their primary campaigns, sources within the party said on Wednesday, ahead of  early elections set to take place later this year.

Each is trying to forge deals with other MKs whereby both sides would urge their supporters to vote for the other in the primary.

The Knesset
Tomer Appelbaum

The comments were made as majority of the Knesset agreed that next election will take place on Tuesday, September 4.

As a result, the Knesset is expected to vote to dissolve itself next week, with the dissolution taking effect the following Sunday less than two weeks after the summer session began.

Likud, Labor and Shas all backed the September 4 date, while Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said he would have been happy with an even earlier date.

The parties that are unhappy with the election being held so soon are Kadima, which only recently chose a new leader and is sinking in the polls, and United Torah Judaism. The big gainers in the next election are likely to be Labor and Yair Lapid's new party, which are expected to split the voters fleeing from Kadima.

Speaking to Haaretz on Wednesday, Likud sources said the battle is particularly intense for the coveted top slot on the Knesset list,  with Sa'ar and four other ministers, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon, Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz all seeing themselves as contenders.

"They all have large egos, and will do everything possible to trip one another up," said one.

Kahlon, who is very popular with both Likud members and the general public, is viewed as aparticularly dangerous threat by the others. Katz, a veteran union leader popular with organized labor, also has a broad support base, so many MKs would be happy to strike a deal with him.

The settlers are another significant voting bloc, and many Likud MKs are courting them. That leaves MKs on the party's left flank, like ministers Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, feeling the heat, because settlers and their supporters won't back them in the primary.

The primary is expected to be held next month, and will apparently revert to using pape rballots. The last primary used computerized voting, but the system's slowness resulted in long lines that discouraged many people from casting a ballot.

While some slots on Likud's Knesset slate are chosen via a nationwide primary, others are reserved for specific constituencies (like new immigrants) or specific geographic districts.

Netanyahu is now seeking to increase the number of slots awarded nationally, since nation wide voting favors incumbent MKs, who have name recognition

Speaking at the Knesset on Wednesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar mocked Kadima's stance in a speech to the Knesset plenum yesterday. "Is there any place else in the world where the opposition fights with all its migh tto postpone elections?" he asked. "You've been in opposition for three and a half years, and you're still not ready. My advice is that you start acting like an opposition in the few days you have left."

In response, MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) accused Likud of "thumbing its nose at democratic procedure" because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "fears that Lieberman will catch up with him. And we're all paying the price".

Kadima later said in a statement that while it would prefer a mid-October date, it will support any motion to advance the election.

But MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) said openly what many MKs were thinking: "If you held a secret ballot, 118 [of the 120] MKs would vote against early elections."

MK Yaakov Katz (National Union) informed the plenum that his party would run a joint slate with Habayit Hayehudi in the next election.

Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Atzmaut party held a press conference to announce that it will run in the next election as an independent party. He thereby sought to squash speculation that it would be absorbed into Likud.

"We came here to refute the rumor that we aren't running, a rumor that serves several people who apparently fear sobriety and responsibility at the helm," Barak said. "We are surrounded by a storm the likes of which we haven't seen in decades. In my experience, a responsible and steady hand on the wheel is needed at such times, and I have such a hand."

Referring to polls showing that Atzmaut won't earn enough votes to get into the next Knesset, Barak said, "I don't put a lot of faith in them. I suggest you consider where Kadima was [in the polls] three months ago and where it is now, as well as the disconnect between wha tappears in the polls and what actually happens in the elections."

Industry Minister Shalom Simhon chimed in, "Everyone can see the alternative. Do we want to see Lieberman as defense minister, or have Barak continue"?

Atzmaut is not planning to hold a primary; Barak will choose its Knesset slate himself.

Kadima MKs are also fearful of their political future, as many almost certainly won't be reelected. Party sources predicted that some would ditch Kadima to form a new party with its former leader, Tzipi Livni, who lost the chairmanship to Shaul Mofaz in March. But others said no one was likely to leave until after the party's primary, because those who place high on the list won't want to bet their future on a new party.

The official pretext for calling new elections was the coalition's inability to agree on are placement for the Tal Law, which governs draft deferrals for yeshiva students. The law was recently overturned by the Supreme Court and was supposed to expire on August 1. Now, however , it will apparently be extended until January, three months after the next Knesset is sworn in.

Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon explained that the Knesset's dissolution essentially freezes all existing legislation even laws declared unconstitutional because no new legislation can be passed to replace them.

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