After his acquittal in court, Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman has joined President Shimon Peres and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni in saying that US Secretary of State John Kerry is a true friend of Israel. He has made diplomatic remarks that have surprised even the moderates within Yisrael Beitenu, proposed territorial and population exchanges, called for giving negotiations with the Palestinians a chance, squabbled with Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, faced down Likud Central Party members who refuse to approve the unification of the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, and has become the darling of the Americans.
In the two races now underway in the Knesset, Liberman is a key player. There is no need to explain his importance in the race for the presidency. But internal figures obtained by "Globes" show that, in the undercover race for the head of the Likud, Liberman's position will surprise many Likud ministers. While MK Ruby Rivlin is gathering signatures and Minister of National Infrastructures Silvan Shalom is collecting promises in the presidential race, Liberman is pulling strings and planning the conquest of his next target.
The Likud does not know how to deal with Liberman. The party is afraid that his slide to the center is intended to bring about an agreement with the Palestinians in order to split the Likud apart. According to this scenario, Liberman realizes that the Likud is not a platform for him to become prime minister, so he is trying to build a new political entity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A poll by Panorama Markets of 1,000 people should cause anyone who thinks that the Russian vote has matured and abandoned Liberman or that his position in the Likud is tough, should think again.
The figures indicate that Liberman has no need to split the Likud. He has a strong base in Yisrael Beitenu, and very broad support within the Likud. 86% of Russian immigrants and 63% of Likud voters see him as a national leader.
Liberman is also in a strong position among the general public: 62% see him as a national leader, and only 20% classify him as a Russian.
The poll results are even more surprising in showing that Likud voters believe that the next contest for the party leadership will be between Liberman and Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon. 10% of Likud voters see Liberman as the best successor to Netanyahu. Ya'alon has an edge of just 1%, within the range of statistical error. Minister of the Interior Gideon Sa'ar is seen as irrelevant, scraping barely 1.8% support. On the other hand, Liberman has finely honed senses, and Sa'ar should be flattered that the poll examined his chances at all.
Minister of Finance Yair Lapid, Livni, Bennett, and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog trail far behind Liberman in response to the question who would make the best prime minister.
When Yisrael Beitenu is examined separately from the Likud, Liberman wins 13 Knesset seats, compared with 28 for Netanyahu.
The significance of the figures is that to win the Likud, Liberman must continue to show party members that he has strong support among the general public, and that only he can win elections. This explains his kind words for Kerry and his support for the peace process. The Israeli center sees relations with the US as a strategic asset.
The poll obtained by "Globes" is so thorough and precise that it is possible to discern from it the boundaries of Liberman's political hunting ground and what agenda he will chose to focus on. He will probably concern himself more with religious councils and less with civil marriage, and he has nowhere to go with the issue of territorial and population exchanges. He can raise it as a political gimmick, but not as a real policy. He will earn no dividend from it. Conversely, after he learned in his previous term that he would get little mileage out of pictures with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we can look forward to seeing pictures with Kerry and hugs with US President Barack Obama.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 13, 2014
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