Yisrael Katz, Are You and Netanyahu Making a Joke Out of Likud Democracy?

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is also chairman of the Likud Central Committee, and a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in political and party undertakings. He and Netanyahu are now trying to postpone the Likud's internal elections by 20 months, a move that has provoked opposition within the ruling government party.

Minister Katz, are you and Benjamin Netanyahu making a joke out of Likud democracy and out of the party's constitution?

No. I support the prime minister's suggestion to set a date for the committee to convene sometime over the next 20 months; that is, to allot four months to add new members, and then a 16-month waiting period so that each member will be obligated to make two payments by standing order, and only then hold elections for the central committee.

This proposal is very democratic and combines two goals: the first is the natural desire of the party to add young members to its ranks, as well as other new members; the second is to prevent hasty, last-minute assemblies by maintaining the principle of the 16-month waiting period before a member can vote and stand for election. If the suggestion is accepted, Likud will continue to be the largest and most democratic party.

This move has an unpleasant odor. You are trying to preserve the existence of irrelevant bodies which should have been dispensed with a long time ago.

Likud bylaws allow us to do this, under special circumstances, and there were such circumstances: that is, the general elections. The government led by the Likud took office in the midst of a complicated situation; all the prime minister's strength and that of the other ministers was required to keep the ship sailing onward, rather than dealing with party matters. We are not talking about general elections, because the current Knesset has had a sudden and surprising longevity.

Since a change in the Likud constitution is required [to do this], the prime minister, in the most democratic fashion, put forth a suggestion for central committee members to hold a secret vote tomorrow, which demands a majority of two-thirds of those who come to the polls. There is nothing more democratic than this.

Do you believe that Netanyahu is a genuine democrat? Or is he operating this way to get rid of obstacles in the party that stand in his way? For example, the group led by ultra right-wing Likud member Moshe Feiglin, as postponement of internal elections will serve to reduce their power.

Netanyahu is not forcing anything on anyone. From the moment the court informed us that the party constitution required a change to postpone the elections, Netanyahu decided to put his position and reputation on the line in a secret vote - despite the fact that there are a variety of people with special interests and an exceptionally large majority is needed for approval.

That is to say, if Netanyahu fails tomorrow, and the change is not approved, his position and reputation will be damaged?

It will most certainly be unhealthy and send a bad message, if the prime minister's suggestion is rejected. But this is all within a democratic framework. No one is casting doubt on Netanyahu's authority.

A loss is likely to open a Pandora's box, to make him look as though he has no control over his party.

Regardless of the outcome, there won't be a collapse, and his standing won't be shaken - but it is definitely unhealthy for the party to reject a suggestion by a chairman who is also the prime minister.

Whoever wants to see a Likud without new members, or on the contrary, a Likud where every new member is immediately allowed to vote - without a proper waiting period to prove his loyalty to the movement - is sinning against the party and the reality it reflects. Netanyahu has no special political interest here.

So ministers like Gilad Erdan, Yuli Edelstein and Silvan Shalom, who oppose the move, are sinning against Likud party reality?

Everyone must do as they see fit. I support the position of the prime minister and Likud party chairman.

Maariv published a story yesterday saying that voting stations will not be placed in West Bank settlements, since you and Netanyahu know that you don't have a majority among the residents there who are Likud members.

I have not been involved in operations; Likud administration does that. I know that not all the regional committees are putting up voting stations this time, only the ones with a large concentration of members. But I certainly think there should be voting booths in the West Bank so that people won't have to travel long distances, and I hope the matter will be corrected as soon as possible.

Perhaps you are acting with such determination in order to lengthen your term as central committee chairman; as long as there are no new elections for the committee, there are also no competitors for the job.

I am convinced that Likud members will place their faith in me again whenever [elections are held], whether within a few months or later on. I have never been afraid of being a candidate. From my perspective, it would actually be very good for me if an assembly were held now and I was elected by a large majority. [But] I'm doing this for the movement.

What kind of democracy is this? There have been no internal elections in Likud for 10 years, everything's old and rotten.

Elections were held eight years ago, and if the prime minister's recommendation is accepted, elections will be held twice in the next 10 years. The Likud, even during hard times, operates in an organized way. A party is not the Knesset, it has the ability and obligation to make decisions that suit the circumstances. Whoever does not have a special interest has no reason not to support this suggestion, but there are people with different agendas, or the desire to advance at any price.

Who? Silvan Shalom? Gilad Erdan?

I am not talking about anyone in particular. Other viewpoints are also legitimate. I hope Likud has learned lessons from the past about the significance of opposing the leader of the movement and the prime minister. There is nothing out of the ordinary here or something which contradicts the opinion of the majority of members. I very much appreciate the fact that Netanyahu put himself and his position to a vote in a complicated situation, a secret vote which requires a very large majority.

What do you think? Will you win or lose?

The members will decide, but there's no drama here, just an ordinary party process. I wish all the parties would behave in the same democratic fashion as Netanyahu has.

Do you always cooperate with Netanyahu on political matters? For example, the failed attempt to split Kadima?

I am proud of the fact that I support the prime minister. This is what the citizens of the state expect, as well as Likud members, and I expect myself to follow the norm. The attempt to split Kadima was acceptable within Likud, for ethical and practical reasons.

In brief - on the eve of the vote, you're calling on your colleagues to go, vote, and not embarrass the prime minister.

Likud is proving again that it is a highly democratic party. The prime minister, from the heights of his rank, put forth a proposal to hold a secret vote, and I certainly call on everyone to go and vote so the will of the majority will be expressed.