The man sitting in front of me is one of the most senior Likud members in the current Knesset term. I’m not the only one he has been meeting with recently, but the things he tells me should be published here of all places.
If he were determined enough, he would likely say them himself. But he’s deliberating, struggling, scared and dealing with questions like when and how. His words are a frontal assault on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He says the corruption is affecting Likud, and that if it continues, the party would lose power.
Netanyahu hasn’t spoken to him for a long time. The ego battles, he says, have reached strange places. In general, he claims, there’s no one who actually talks to Netanyahu these days, apart from his close family.
What the senior Likud member tells me is something I have also heard from others, but the change is in the initiative he is taking. In our conversation, he specifies his options. The first, and more likely, option is to wait for everything to end with the police's recommendations and the decision of the State Attorney’s Office. That’s an easy option, which doesn’t require a thing from him apart from talking on the condition of anonymity.
Alternatively, he is trying to arrange a revolt together with fellow senior party members. That’s the second, politically dangerous option, especially in Likud. What will it look like, I ask. Here’s his theoretical description: The five senior members he named, including himself, sit behind a table after convening an urgent press conference. The courage is in the fact it’s a joint move, without a lone victim. Two of those senior members already tried to organize an independent revolt in the past, and their wings were clipped shortly afterwards. They got the message.
Together, and only together, they face the cameras and declare that things can’t go on like this: The loss of checks and balances, the investigations and the damage to the Right. He stresses the last part again and again. “We are embarking on a new path,” he imagines them saying. “One of us will be chosen to replace Netanyahu. We won’t say who just yet. We will agree that one of us will be chosen. And as for Netanyahu, everything comes to an end.”
Back to reality. These senior people, he says, are already discussing this scenario, but don’t have the courage to take action. So what he refers to as “the second option” doesn’t have much of a chance of materializing before the police recommendations. The third option is losing the elections, whenever they are held, and then dealing with the painful blow by returning with a stronger, cleaner Likud.
Oddly enough, it was only after we ended the conversation that I realized he had failed to discuss the fourth option with me. The option most Likud voters and most of the party’s elected representatives are talking about (Knesset Member Oren Hazan is the only one who’s saying the opposite right now, and he has his own reasons). The victory scenario, in which Netanyahu wins the next elections again with a large majority, beating the polls and the pollsters and admonishing his internal and external rivals.
In any event, between the lines, I understand he sees the suitable replacement for Netanyahu in the mirror, as do the others. There are different reasons for what he is going through. It appears to start with a personal issue, move to ideology and finally reach his ability to shape the situation politically. The David Bitan affair joins the Danny Danon affair, which joins the Netanyahu affairs, which join the “recommendations bill.”
“That’s how the ‘Mushchatim Nimastem’ (we're sick of the corrupt) was born,” he reminds me. “And when it sticks to you, it can’t be removed for a long time, even with a sanitizer.”
Finally, he mentions the other side too, those who don’t like Netanyahu to begin with, those who go to protests. Whoever thinks the protests would stop at Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is wrong.
“You’re not the only one who wrote against the ‘recommendations bill,’” he says, mentioning a whole lot of right-wing writers who publicly opposed it: Nadav Haetzni and Israel Harel, Arieh Eldad and Hagai Segal, Limor Livnat and others. I’m more right-wing than Bibi, he says. No one can call me a leftist, so I can voice my criticism, he explains to me—or perhaps to himself.