Likud's Rightists Gear Up for Next Challenge

Likud's right wing has had plenty of successes. The next challenge is to keep Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak out of the party.

The aborted 2012 election campaign was supposed to be a wild rumpus for the settlers and Likud's right wing. Their years of work were supposed to reach a climax in mid-June, just before the primary that would draw up the party's election list.

Knesset members, ministers and district leaders were to make pilgrimages and heap promises: a law to legalize the outposts, annexation of the West Bank, support for programs combining military service and Torah study - on the way to electing the most right-wing Knesset list in Likud's history.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud hard-liner Ze'ev Elkin.
Olivier Fitoussi

One of the stations on the road was to be last week's Likud convention, the body responsible for the Likud constitution. It was the convention's first meeting since its new lineup was elected in January. In those elections, right-wingers voted in many of their people, including from West Bank settlements. For example, Natan Engelsman from Shiloh was elected along with 14 members of his family: parents, children, siblings, in-laws and nephews.

The settlers planned long and hard for the convention. Many party politicos rightly claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu runs a nondemocratic regime in Likud, sidelining party institutions and treating them as if he owned them. The meeting was supposed to be a time to set things right; the right-wingers would show the prime minister that he had to make an effort to win their love.

A few days before the convention, the rightist camp won its first victory. Netanyahu wanted to appoint a new chairman of Likud's highest arbitrator - in total violation of the regulations. Shevah Stern from Shiloh, a veteran activist and a head of Likud's nationalist faction, dug in his heels, applied to the arbitrator and defeated Netanyahu.

On Sunday, representatives of the party's right wing were the first to arrive at the convention. The hall at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds was too small to hold the thousands who showed up. Right-wingers' demands that voting for convention chairman be done by secret ballot grabbed the attention. The vote was postponed; a victory for the organized forces. A Pyrrhic victory.

After the political drama of midweek, when early national elections were called off, the right wing wasn't celebrating. Moshe Feiglin, who has been trying to change his image as Netanyahu's eternal rival, even said during the mourning period for the prime minister's late father that there was no need to humiliate the leader. Still, the rightist camp's main fear is that the unity government is the spark that will set off a Big Bang.

"Netanyahu isn't built to split Likud, but maybe he'll try to bring Mofaz or Barak into the party - everything we've been concerned about in recent years," said a prominent settlement activist, referring to newly sworn-in Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"If he gets a tailwind from the public opinion polls, he could go for a move like that. In such a situation, the power of MKs who are settlement enthusiasts would decrease."

Along with a fear of the future, right-wingers see a one-time chance to effect change. Activists have been saying there's no point in fighting for one outpost; rather, they should try to change the balance of power with the Supreme Court. The first round, a bill submitted by MKs Danny Danon and Zeev Elkin, was overruled by the prime minister.

"Under the heading of changing the system of government, it's possible to do great things," said one right-wing leader. "It's possible to achieve unprecedented strategic change in relations with the Supreme Court; to delineate its powers and the Knesset's power."

Right-wingers say that after the court rulings on the Migron outpost and the Ulpana neighborhood in the Beit El settlement - the court rejected the state's requests for postponing house demolitions - the prime minister might well agree to clip the Supreme Court's wings a bit.