Netanyahu says Likud goal is 40 seats

Thirty-five seats is a reasonable expectation for Likud in the next general election, and 40 is the goal, Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, in an address to the party’s municipal candidates at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel.

Netanyahu told the candidates he did not know when the general election would take place, amid a dispute over the haredi conscription bill that he has said could advance the race. But he said he was sure the Likud would succeed.

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“We will do that thanks to the extraordinary support we receive from the Israeli public, which sees our great accomplishments,” Netanyahu said.

The Likud currently has 30 seats in the Knesset; the latest poll predicted 33 for the party.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg responded that Netanyahu would not lead the Likud in the next election due to his criminal probes – especially Case 4000, in which he is accused of aiding businessman Shaul Elovich, who owned both the Bezeq phone company and the Walla news site, in return for positive coverage in the latter.

“Netanyahu will soon see that no one is immune,” Zandberg said. “The public will stop forgiving their corrupt prime minister, who divides the citizens for his narrow political considerations and lets extremists run his government. This arrogance will lead to his downfall. The prime minister will soon see that 4000 is more than 40.”

Netanyahu promised the support of the Likud to municipal candidates. In a conversation at the event with the Likud’s top candidate for the Jerusalem city council, attorney Elisha Peleg, the prime minister said he would back the Likud’s city council candidates.

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But Peleg told Netanyahu that he made that task more difficult with his endorsement for mayor of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is running on former mayor Nir Barkat’s Jerusalem Will Succeed list and rejected an opportunity to run with Likud.

In an interview at a Jerusalem café ahead of Netanyahu’s event, Peleg told The Jerusalem Post that municipal races would be a key bellwether for the next general election, just like mid-term legislative elections are in the United States.

“The prime minister knows local elections are a test for our power in national elections,” Peleg said. “Only a strong Likud in the Jerusalem city council can change national priorities in Israel and bring budgets the city needs. We have connections with ministers that can help fund key projects in the city. , who are the majority in the city, to vote for the real Likud.”

Peleg lashed out at Elkin, who he said broke the party’s bylaws by running against a Likud list. He said there is a procedure for removing him from Likud, but he decided not to take that step out of respect for him.

“Elkin is harming and weakening Likud in Jerusalem by splitting our votes and not coordinating with the Likud branch,” Peleg said. “It’s unacceptable that a minister and MK of Likud, who gets his salary as a representative of Likud, makes his own rules and runs without authorization of the party. In English, that’s called anarchy and total chaos.”

The dispute with Elkin was both ideological and over city council candidates. Elkin backs cutting off from the Jerusalem municipality all Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem that are located beyond the security barrier erected in 2004. Peleg said the Likud opposes relinquishing neighborhoods and dividing Jerusalem.

The Likud chose a list of only male city council candidates before. Peleg said Elkin would have demoted the candidates chosen to the fourth slot and beyond on the list.

“He tried to bully us and take over Likud list,” Peleg said. “I won the support of 82% of branch council members. He can’t come from out of nowhere and dictate.”

Peleg, 65, also bashed Barkat, who he said “saw Jerusalem as a launching pad to national politics” and consequently focused on advancing himself instead of the city.

“The mayor is the head of municipal services to the residents of the city, its highest clerk, not a sheriff,” he said. “Barkat left behind scorched earth. The city is in its worst state ever. Only if Likud gets enough power can residents return to be able to say they are proud to be Jerusalemites.”

While the Likud officially had no seats on the outgoing city council, there were Likud members on five different lists. In the 2015 Knesset election, the party received 61,500 votes from Jerusalemites who are potential voters for its council candidates.

Peleg’s priorities include housing, education, employment, cleanliness, transportation, stopping emigration from the city and improving its economy. He said an equal investment must be made in Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.

To accomplish those goals, Peleg cites a long track record as an IDF lieutenant colonel who fought and was injured in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a partner in President Reuven Rivlin’s law firm, Prime Minister Manachem Begin’s spokesman when he won the 1977 election and 30 years in Jerusalem politics.

“When I was in charge of the city’s cleanliness when Teddy Kollek was mayor, the city was so clean it sparkled,” Peleg boasted. “I have the most experience of any council candidate. I never got a salary from the city, only headaches and suffering. But I am running because I have the ability to contribute my skills and experience to return the Likud to its good old days.”

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