Are Bibi Netanyahu and Likud Headed Towards Divorce?

Bibi Netanyahu may soon lose control of his own Likud party. On September 8th of last year on the front page of Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, it was reported that Netanyahu’s close associates were trying to get rid of a certain internal Likud statute that requires voters to amass 16 months of party membership before they can vote for the party’s institutions. The reason was simple. Internal party elections were coming up, and Netanyahu did not have enough supporters to put his men in the party’s central committee. That means his internal party rivals led by Moshe Feiglin among others, could take control. “If they succeed,” said one of his associates, “the pressure on Knesset members will be enormous. Everybody starts thinking about his own primary campaign, and Netanyahu starts to lose control of the faction.” (Ma’ariv, September 8, front page)

That was over five months ago. The following is what has happened since. First, Netanyahu failed in ridding the party of the 16-month statute. Second, the current Likud Central Committee met on December 29 of last year to discuss dates for the next Central Committee elections. By Likud law they had to be held within a year of general elections, which took place on February 10th of last year. That makes the latest date for elections February 10 of this year. That, of course, has already passed. This is because Netanyahu, on December 29, had asked the Central Committee to extend their own tenure by 20 months, giving him 4 months to sign up as many supporters as he could to the party, and 16 months for them to ripen into voters.

The Central Committee voted to extend their own term. The decision, however, was taken to court on January 21st by those same party rivals, and Netanyahu lost the case. The Honorable Judge Yehuda Zaft of the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that elections had to be held by April 30th, and only those who amassed 16 months membership by February 10th, the original deadline, could vote.

Knowing that those same party rivals could double and even perhaps triple or quadruple their representation in the Likud Central Committee if elections were held so soon, Netanyahu, on February 12th, then decided to gather the Likud Law Committee to retroactively change the Likud constitution so elections would not have to be held by February 10th in the first place.

Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, who is also the head of the Central Committee, had this to say about the decision, “I was of the opinion that we needed to hold elections on time, but Prime Minister Netanyahu explained that now is not appropriate for political reasons. I think we need to respect the Prime Minister’s opinion and therefore we went forward with this process. The court decided that elections need to be held by the end of April, and therefore we, the Likud Law Committee, will prepare a proposal to change the constitution.”

It is doubtful that this move will hold up in court either, making his future as head of the party a bit more shaky.