Leader – Benjamin Netanyahu
Party’s Official Name: Halikud (The Consolidation)
MKs in current Knesset – 27
Latest Haaretz poll (running in a joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu) – 34
HaLikud (The Consolidation), originally Herut, is the party founded by Menachem Begin in 1948 with members of the pre-state Irgun paramilitary group and disciples of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Movement, the long-standing right-wing opposition to the Zionist mainstream. For many years, the party was beyond the pale, gradually gaining recognition after it joined forces with the Liberal party in the 1960s and served in the coalition in 1967-1970. Officially formed in 1973, when a number of centrist and right-wing parties joined up with Herut, Likud first came to power under Begin’s leadership in 1977 and has been in government for 26 of the last 35 years.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the fourth leader in the party’s history. Following Yitzhak Shamir’s resignation in 1992, Netanyahu won his first leadership primary the following year, leading the party to victory in the 1996 elections. He resigned after losing the premiership to Ehud Barak in 1999, and returned to Likud’s top spot after Ariel Sharon splintered from the party and founded Kadima in 2005.
Likud still describes itself as a “national-liberal party,” but its liberal faction has long since disappeared. Today Likud is split between four main factions: The first consists mainly of moderate veterans who uphold the party’s democratic traditions of civil liberties and the rule of law, and are currently an embattled minority in the party; they will have a much harder time now that ministers Michael Eitan, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor have all been kicked off the list in the Likud primaries. In the interests of his party’s image, Netanyahu may try and reappoint one or two of them as ministers, but that doesn’t change the fact that Likud’s liberal wing has been dramatically weakened. The second group consists of “social” activists who grew up in development towns and underprivileged neighborhoods and stress Likud’s ties with the predominantly Sephardi working class. The leading representative of this group was Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, who recently announced his retirement from politics, making it unclear who will be their standard-bearer in the next Knesset. The third faction is made of right-wing ideologues that oppose any territorial concession or compromise with the Palestinians and support proposals to limit the judiciary’s powers and seek to rein in human rights groups. As the most influential faction in the party today, their votes in the primaries are assiduously courted by senior Likud ministers even if they do not actually belong to this faction. Even more to the right is the “Jewish leadership” faction, consisting mainly of West Bank settlers. This faction is led by Moshe Feiglin who regularly challenges Netanyahu for the party leadership (unsuccessfully so far).
Despite the party’s consistently pro-settlement positions, Likud Prime Ministers Menachem Begin (1977-1983) and Ariel Sharon (2001-2006) implemented the withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, following the signing of the Camp David Accords with Egypt, and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, respectively. In the process, they had to overcome significant opposition within the party.
Netanyahu accepted the two-state principle in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University and, following the social protests of summer 2011, he promised a change in the national economic priorities. Despite this, Likud’s diplomatic and market-orientated fiscal policies have not changed.
According to all the polls, Likud will emerge from the elections as the largest Knesset party and Netanyahu the next prime minister. To the chagrin of many Likud members, Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman agreed to run in a joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu list , which could dilute the influence of the party apparatus and membership.