Netanyahu Strikes Deal With Far-right Leader: Government Portfolio in Exchange for Dropping Election Run

In bid to sweep right-wing voters, Netanyahu promises Moshe Feiglin, who cost Likud three Knesset seats in Israel's April election, to promote medical cannabis imports ■ Poll shows no change in potential election outcomes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and far-right Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin in a joint press conference, Jerusalem, August 29, 2019.

Far-right Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin announced on Thursday that he is dropping out of the September 17 election in exchange for a role of a minister in Prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu's next government, should he succeeds forming it. (Latest election polls – click here)

In a joint press conference, Netanyahu told Feiglin he sees him "as a minister in his government and as a partner to [my] vision... Our success depends on joining forces before and after the election, and therefore I call on Zehut voters to help us."

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Netanyahu added that he and Feiglin believe in the same values of liberal, competitive economy and reduced government regulation, and vowed to promote legalization of medical cannabis imports, an issue Feiglin has made a key point in his campaign.

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"I've decided to open the market to supervised [cannabis] import, which will be carried out by the relevant authorities," Netanyahu said.      

Feiglin said that a bill would be approved in the first session of the 22nd Knesset, allowing Israeli patients to purchase medicinal cannabis from every authorized provider both in Israel and abroad.

He added that the distribution of the medicinal cannabis would be carried out by the pharmacies, noting that the legislation will be a condition presented by Likud in coalition agreements with other parties.

In addition, Feiglin said that according to his agreement with Likud, all small businesses would not pay taxes during the first two years after their establishment.    

Earlier, Feiglin met Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Residence and came to an agreement that he would receive a cabinet position, although not as finance or economy minister, should Netanyahu succeeds to form the next government. The two are set to issue a joint announcement on Thursday afternoon.

Over the past several days, Feiglin has demanded a cabinet post and canceling the cannabis reform — which is based on a free market scenario, with the assumption being that competition between providers will benefit consumers, leading to a fairer link between quantities and types of products and their prices — in return for dropping out of the Knesset race.

Over the past 24 hours, Feiglin presented the guidelines of his agreement with Netanyahu to several Zehut members, who said Netanyahu had promised Feiglin a minister post in his new government.

In addition, Zehut members said that according to the agreement, a legislation making cannabis more available for patients would pass in the Knesset's first session.

Nevertheless, the issue sparked controversy among Zehut members, who said Feiglin should have demanded full cannabis legalization. Furthermore, Zehut members protested against the fact that Netanyahu did not commit to canceling the cannabis reform now, but only when the next government is established.   

"It’s unclear how the prime minister will keep his promises, which doesn't meet our commitments to our voters. Feiglin cannot patronize his party members and make all the decisions by himself," a Zehut member said.   

On Wednesday, Feiglin said that headway had been made in talks on regulations that would make medical cannabis more available, defining it a prescription medication. Any agreement with the prime minister, he noted, would go to a referendum of party members.

According to sources from Likud, "Netanyahu is investing tremendous efforts to prevent right-wing votes from going to waste. The gist of the agreement with Feiglin concerns free-market economy policy."

Feiglin said he told the prime minster that current cannabis policy is killing patients. "The prime minister got to the bottom of things and after many hours of consultations with professionals, we formulated a solution which will lead to the legalization of cannabis for those who need it, which means patients would be able to purchase the medicine they are entitled to," Feiglin said.

Feiglin joined the Likud party in 2000 and in the 2013 election was elected as a Likud Knesset member. At one point, he even ran against Netanyahu as head of the party.

After being relegated to a spot on the Likud Knesset slate that made it unlikely that he would be reelected in 2015, he resigned and formed Zehut. The party ran for the first time in the April election. Although opinion polls have projected that Zehut would get as many as seven Knesset seats, in practice it failed to pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

Zehut held a convention on Tuesday in Tel Aviv with the attendance of several hundreds of its supports in an attempt to signal that the party has no intention of dropping out of the election race.

Nevertheless, party members have admitted over the past two days that they were pressured not to contend in the September vote, noting they will examine the possibility of withdrawing their candidacy, if an "offer that significantly promotes Zehut's platform is presented before them."

 "This time, we're not running to save other parties," he said and would not be frightened by warnings of dire consequences by others, to lure away Zehut supporters. "This time, [they] understand that if we don't vote, the dream will not be realized," he declared. "Don't leave here without donating to the campaign."

Limited impact on vote

A public opinion poll released later on Thursday by Channel 12 News shows no significant impact of Feiglin’s move on the outcomes of the election. 

Netanyahu’s Likud is seen gaining an extra Knesset seat, compared to Channel 12’s previous poll published last week, taking it from 30 to 31 out 120 seats - one more than Kahol Lavan’s 30 projected seats. This, however, is offset by Yamina, who said it would recomment Netanyahu for prime minister after September 17, losing one seat, going from 11 projected seats to ten.

Likud, Yamina and ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas are projected 56 seats together, still short of a Knesset majority, while Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union would get 44 seats according to the poll, also unable to form a center-left majority coalition. 

Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-majority parties, would get ten Knesset seats each, according to Channel 12’s poll. Both haven’t committed to supporting any specific candidate for prime minister.