Senior Likud figures are increasingly acknowledging that party leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not win Tuesday’s national election.
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“Something isn’t going the way it should. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week should have created a turning point for us and strengthened Likud in the polls. It’s clear that we didn’t achieve the desired outcome,” a senior figure in Likud told Haaretz.
“We came to these elections thinking Netanyahu had no real rival. Now we understand that the picture is much more complex,” another Likud source said.
“I don’t discount the possibility that [Zionist Union co-leader Isaac] Herzog will win the election,” added another high-ranking Likud figure. “If that happens, I believe his coalition will hold out for a year and then Likud will come back to government.”
Likud must simultaneously tackle two major problems: One, a constant trickle of voters out of the party toward the centrist Yesh Atid and Kulanu. The second is the lack of motivation among Likud voters to get out and vote. “We have a major concern that a few Knesset seats will [be lost] due to voters who support Likud but just won’t vote, and it’s not clear if we will overcome this, the party figure said adding: “The problem is not Likud. People just don’t want to vote Netanyahu.”
Meanwhile Prime Minister Netanyahu and others close to him have repeatedly blamed “outside forces” for his lack of popularity.
“There is a huge global effort to bring down the Likud government,” Netanyahu told supporters at a meeting Monday in the Haifa Bay suburb of Kiryat Motzkin. “This is a very close battle,” he added. “Nothing is assured.”
Over the past few days members of Netanyahu’s inner circle have echoed his charges, citing foreign businesspeople who have invested funds to bring about a change of government in Israel, by funding organizations like V15, which is conducting a campaign against Netanyahu, or One Million Hands, the group that organized the anti-Netanyahu protest in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.
Political parties in Israel are banned from accepting money directly from overseas donors during an election campaign. But such funding is allowed under Israeli law for non-profit organizations espousing political viewpoints, and U.S. consultants have advised Israeli candidates for years.
Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke on the same issue on Tuesday, enumerating what he believed were the elements stacked up against Netanyahu: “The media is enlisted against him, the Palestinian Authority as well as elements in the United States. I see something that looks like support for the other side.”
Speaking in an online chat on Tuesday with Haaretz readers, Steinitz said: “All these forces come to bring about the absurd situation in which Netanyahu gives up his place to someone who has never proven anything,” he said.
“I think that most of the opinion polls show that despite this delegitimization, most of the public still prefers Netanyahu and his leadership talents,” said Steinitz.