Netanyahu Convenes Coalition Whips, Expects Government Break-up Within Months

PM says early Likud primaries needed because coalition won't last long, but skeptical party rivals see it as a power grab by Likud's leader.

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PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters, January 23, 2013.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters, January 23, 2013.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday with MK Moshe Feiglin in order to convince his Likud party rival to support advancing the date for the primaries for party head, a position that Netanyahu currently holds.

Netanyahu is understood to have told Feiglin that he expects the governing coalition to break up within the year, adding that it will probably not last long enough to approve a state budget for 2016. Moving up the Likud primaries would lay the groundwork for the party’s next Knesset election campaign.

In a related development, however, the prime minister is convening a meeting on Wednesday with the heads of the other coalition parties in an effort to diffuse tensions and stabilize his government against the backdrop of a series of clashes between the parties, particularly over Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni’s proposed reform of religious conversion policy.

Netanyahu’s request to meet with Feiglin, who represents the right wing of the party, likely reflects the prime minister’s view that without Feiglin’s support, he would have a hard time convincing the Likud central committee that the primaries should be moved forward. Netanyahu sought to establish an understanding with Feiglin in part to weaken the influence of central committee chairman MK Danny Danon, who has already said that he would work to head off early elections for Likud party head. Feiglin has declared his own intent to run against Netanyahu as party head.

In an effort to sabotage Netanyahu’s efforts, Danon announced on Tuesday that he would not allow the Likud Central Committee to convene next week to debate socioeconomic issues, even though he himself set the date for the assembly. Danon said he wants to prevent Netanyahu from using the forum to raise his request to advance the primaries and possibly winning support for this move. “I won’t allow the snatching of the election for the party head. I will propose to the party chairman reasonable dates in which to hold a fair runoff which is respectful of the party in power. The Likud movement is at the peak of a revitalizing process and I will not allow the movement and its members to be silenced again,” said Danon.

Netanyahu does not need Danon’s permission to convene the committee, but the committee chairman can make it very difficult for the prime minister to do so.
“Bibi is afraid of losing in the central committee vote,” one senior party official said recently regarding the plan to advance the primary date, and referring to the prime minister by his nickname. “It’s not clear if the Feiglin camp has enough power alone to defeat the initiative, but undoubtedly if the Feiglin supporters come out against it,  it will also provide backing for other camps that oppose the prime minister.” Feiglin has refused to support early primaries.

Likud sources who have heard Netanyahu’s assessment regarding the life expectancy of the government take it with a grain of salt, saying that the prime minister’s message that Knesset elections are in the offing is mainly aimed at paving the way for early Likud primaries. It’s too soon to say when the Knesset elections will be held, the sources stated, but Netanyahu wants to solidify his hold on the party — now that his chief rival, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, has announced that he would be leaving politics — and before someone else gains momentum. After Netanyahu scores a victory in the internal party election, suddenly Netanyahu will manage to keep his current government in power for the next two years, they added.

Feiglin’s opposition to moving up the primary is apparently intended to prevent Netanyahu from further entrenching his power in the central committee. Feiglin’s office refused to comment on the matter.

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