Photos: Ohad Zwigenberg, Ofer Amram, Haim Zach, Ido Erez
Netanyahu and Lieberman at press conference
Photo: Gil Yohanan

PM: Lieberman could be defense minister

Faced with growing opposition to Yisrael Beiteinu merger, Netanyahu sets up urgent meeting with key Likud members in attempt to bolster support for move ahead of party's Monday vote

Due to the mounting opposition within the Likud to the ticket merger with Yisrael Beiteinu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to urgently meet with key Central Committee members in the party, in an effort to garner support for the move.  


Netanyahu, who told the Likud faction on Sunday that Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman would be able to choose the defense portfolio under the two parties' unity agreement, heard of the growing frustration within the party over the secret deal and therefore decided to "soften the blow" ahead of the party's vote on the deal, Monday.


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In an attempt to weaken the party's opposition to the merger, the PM further decided to invite key Likud members and activists to his home, where he is expected to also invite Lieberman in order to receive their support.


Eitan vs. Netanyahu

The majority of the Likud's ministers, with the exception of Minister Michael Eitan kept silent on the merger in Sunday's faction meeting. Eitan confronted Netanyahu, demanding to see a written agreement with Lieberman.


Ticket to the big leagues. Lieberman (L), PM announce merger (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

Netanyahu and Lieberman (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


Asked whether the FM could choose one of the top three portfolio's in the government, Netanyahu said that Lieberman could choose one of the three, including the defense portfolio:"From my understanding, however, Lieberman would like to keep his current post at the Foreign Ministry," Netanyahu explained.


On Thursday, nearly six months after shocking the political system by forming a unity government with Kadima, Netanyahu threw another curve ball after announcing that he would join forces with Lieberman ahead of the upcoming elections.


Netanyahu's decision to join forces with Lieberman for the elections has met fierce opposition by both ministers and Likud activists.


Over the weekend, internal tensions mounted between those in the party that demand an open vote on the move, and those who prefer an anonymous vote.


Netanyahu and others supporting the move demand an open vote, while those opposing it, led by Minister Eitan, demand an anonymous vote.


"Netanyahu knows that those opposing the merger would not dare expose themselves publicly," said a Likud official.


Eitan argued over the weekend that party members should not be asked to vote on the deal before all of its details have been presented to them. "How can Likud members be expected to sign off on a deal they know nothing about?" he wondered.


Meanwhile, Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth learned Sunday that as part of the deal struck between the PM and Lieberman, they will be able to weigh in on the composition of the joint list running for the Knesset.


Any such changes would be made despite the fact that the parties' respective lists will be determined by the Likud primaries and Yisrael Beiteinu's election committee.


The Likud primaries have been set for November 25, and once the list is determined, Netanyahu will "improve" it, to include his preferred candidates – who will also need to be approved by Lieberman.


That means that if one of the candidates that Netanyahu would like to see elected to the Knesset fails to make the cut in the primaries, he would be able to improve his chances using one of the top slots reserved for Yisrael Beiteinu.


A Likud source said that the PM planned to release a list of "recommended members" ahead of the primaries.


"Netanyahu is thinking about what's best for him, not what's best for the Likud," a senior party member said. "He wants to make sure that he becomes prime minister… We're going into this election with 42 mandates, but we have no idea how many we'll have in the end."


Yuval Karni is a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent




פרסום ראשון: 10.28.12, 13:10
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