Bennett Will Be Key Partner in Government, Say Top Likud Officials

These declarations are far from the aggressive public stance Likud has taken in recent days in a bid to stanch the flow of its traditional voters to Habayit Hayehudi.

Senior Likud figures said Monday night that despite the party’s campaigning against Habayit Hayehudi, the new party headed by Naftali Bennett is expected to be a major partner in the next government. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one high-ranking Likud figure said that Bennett is “unequivocally” a central partner in the envisioned post-election Likud-led government. “The parties in the nationalist camp want [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu as the premier and it’s good for us for them to be near him,” the source continued, adding, “All the reports about Netanyahu planning to form a government that will leave Habayit Hayehudi outside the coalition are incorrect. Bennett won’t have to apologize to his voters when he joins the government; they see it as a natural step. [Hatnuah head Tzipi] Livni or [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid will go in, but they’ll have to apologize and to justify their remaining in the coalition by means of various accomplishments.” Another senior Likud figure echoed his colleague’s conviction that Bennett will be in the next government, saying, “The entire recent campaign is part of defining positions more sharply for the period of the election. We don’t see Bennett as an ideological rival. But the right’s voters must realize that the road to realizing the Zionist vision and the principles of the movement goes through a big party.”

These declarations are far from the aggressive public stance Likud has taken in recent days in a bid to stanch the flow of its traditional voters to Habayit Hayehudi. On Monday, the Likud put its new acquisition into play for the first time: outgoing Yesha Council of settlements chairman Danny Dayan, whose term there partially coincided with Bennett’s tenure as director general. In Monday’s Likud ad on radio and television, Dayan questioned Bennett’s political abilities.

“Tzipi is absolutely not preferable to Bibi,” Dayan said in the ad, referring to Livni and Netanyahu, respectively. “That’s the lack of judgment I am concerned about,” he added. Speaking from London, on a final trip on Yesha Council business, Dayan said his remarks were aimed at supporting Netanyahu rather than weakening Bennett. “I want a strong Netanyahu. I want a strong government.”
Dayan said he does not think the outcome of the January 22 election is a done deal, adding that he believes “President Shimon Peres hasn’t had his last word in trying to influence the results. My concern is about the conduct of Naftali, or of Shas. Both parties say they will recommend to Peres that Netanyahu be asked to form the government, but neither one has said that it will not sit in a government that is headed by the centrist bloc if Peres decides to instruct its representatives to form the next government.”

Another important figure who publicly came out against Bennett on Monday was coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin, who heads Likud’s settlement campaign headquarters. Elkin said he was furious over Bennett’s attempts to win over voters from parties to the left of Likud, such as Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and from right-wing parties. “He’s trying to have it both ways,” Elkin said on Monday, “depending on which media outlet or which audience he’s talking to.”