Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Losing Control
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon is on a roll. He was elected head of the Likud convention by a landslide and seems likely to follow that up with becoming the new chairman of Likud’s policy-making Central Committee and its 3500 members.
Danon has clashed repeatedly with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and in a zero-sum way, his rise parallels Netanyahu’s decline. The Prime Minister had originally planned to challenge Danon for the mosltly ceremonial position of head of the Likud convention but pulled out after it became clear that he wouldn’t win.
Danon won 85 percent of the votes although voter turnout was low. Barring some dramatic change, Danon will win the more important post of chairman of the Central Committee on Sunday.
The internal jockeying in the ruling party comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in the region yet again in an attempt to get Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table.
Danon issued a blunt warning to the Prime Minister that his party will not support him if he does reach a deal with the Palestinians.
“If a few days from now, there will be some diplomatic plan or another, it will be brought to a vote, because these things are part of the essence of democracy.”
In several recent interviews Danon has said that the Likud opposes a two-state solution, meaning an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem next to Israel, and that the coalition would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote.
This is not the official policy of the Likud or of Netanyahu himself who has called for a demilitarized Palestinian state warning that without one, Israel will eventually become a bi-national state instead of a Jewish state.
Danon’s recent comments show that the majority of the Likud party seem to be more hawkish than the Prime Minister.
“It’s not only Danny Danon -- Netanyahu is facing a Likud faction in parliament that is getting more hawkish,” political scientist Shlomo Egoz told The Media Line. “The question is whether he will be able to lead a policy which is more center oriented.”
Egoz says the current atmosphere in the Likud can be traced back to 2005, when Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon founded the centrist Kadima party, to support his decision for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In the 2006 elections, Kadima became the largest party in the Knesset with 29 out of 120 seats, although it lost almost all of its power in the most recent elections.
Many of the more liberal members of Likud, such as Justice Minister Tzippi Livni, who is today one of the most outspoken members of the government calling for a peace deal with the Palestinians, left the party to join Kadima. Those who remained in the Likud were those who do not believe a peace deal with the Palestinians is possible.
There was also widespread anger in the Likud against Netanyahu for his decision to merge with Yisrael Beitenu headed by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Together the two parties received 31 seats, less than they received separately in the last election.
Danon says the Likud needs to bring in younger voters.
“Today’s results will have one clear message: The Likud is returning to the field,” Danon told party activists before the vote. We’ll bring back to Likud the living spirit, the young, ideological spirit.”
Danon is 42 – Netanyahu is 63.
Political scientist Egoz says that as long as there is no substantive peace process, Netanyahu will not have trouble from his party. He says, however, that party loyalists are worried that Netanyahu, like Sharon, may decide on a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the land that Israel acquired in 1967. Danon could lead a movement to stop that from happening.
Yet other Israeli analysts say that in the end the Likud Central Committee, even if Danon becomes its leader, will continue to back Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu really doesn’t have to worry,” Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Without Netanyahu they can’t win an election, and nobody in Likud wants to go back to the opposition.”