The Likud Party (“The Consolidation,” in Hebrew) is a right wing political party in Israel founded by revolutionary leader Menachem Begin and was the first right-leaning party to lead the Israeli government. It is currently headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Likud started out as a group of both left and right-wing parties - including Herut, Liberal Party, Free Center, National List, and Labor Movement for Greater Israel - that united in 1973 just before the elections to the 8th Knesset. The party's electoral list for the Knesset was drawn up from representatives of the various movements based on an agreed formula.
Chosen to head the party was the veteran leader of Herut and former Etzel commander, Menachem Begin. Begin, who until the establishment of the Likud, had led the Herut Party as the hawkish right wing marker on the Israel political map, chose to lead the newly created party in a more moderate manner. From its inception, the Likud Party adopted the principles of social equality, a free market economy, and preservation of Jewish tradition and culture, values that were largely shaped according to the teachings of Zeev Jabotinsky.
Likud first came to power in 1977, in what would eventually be referred to as “the Upheaval,” an election that marked the first time since Israel's independence that a right-wing party would lead the government. As Prime Minister, Begin led the State to the historic peace agreement with Egypt, the bombing of the atomic reactor in Osiraq, Iraq and also oversaw the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Peace for Galilee. Under Begin’s leadership, the Likud raised the banner of Jewish settlement in Judea & Samaria and in Galilee, and introduced the Jerusalem Law, which established the status of united Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.
In 1983, Begin retired his post and Yitzhak Shamir was appointed Prime Minister in his place. Shamir served as Prime Minister on behalf of the Likud on and off from 1986 to 1992. As Prime Minister, Shamir took part in the Madrid Peace Conference and also enthusiasticaly promoted the historic Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union and from Ethiopia in Operation Solomon.
Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to lead the Likud after Shamir’s retirement in 1993. Three years later, Netanyahu led the party to a sweeping electoral victory and became the ninth Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
In 1999, Netanyahu retired from politics and was succeeded by Ariel Sharon as party leader. In 2001, Sharon defeated then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the elections and returned Likud to power. During his term of office, Sharon led Operation Defensive Shield and ordered the construction of the security fence to help protect Israel from Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank. In summer 2005, Sharon forged ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, and following a major split in Likud over the disengagement, Sharon left the party at the end of November 2005 to form the new Kadima Party.
After Sharon left, Netanyahu was once again made leader of Likud and returned the party to power in 2009. In October 2012, Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, announced that their parties would merge ahead of the January 2013 elections and would be called Likud Beiteinu.
A primary election was held on December 31, 2014 after the sudden dissolution of the 33rd government and 19th Knesset earlier that month, with Danny Danon challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party's leadership. Netanyahu won easily, and with the poor showing of right-wing members of the party such as Moshe Faiglin, the results represented a victory for the party's moderates. After forming the first government without any of the religious parties in the last election, the defection of centrists in the coalition has led Netanyahu to turn once again to these parties as potential coalition partners.
Netanyahu's lawyer, attorney David Shimron, and Likud's Youth chairman, David Shain, accused the "Zionist Camp" Party of systematically violating multiple Israeli election laws on February 5. They accused the Labor and Ha'Tnuah parties of “raising money, engaging in organizational coordination and engaging in propaganda,” and stated that the Zionist Camp Party “is encouraging people to vote against Likud – in other words, it is engaging in forbidden propaganda.” The complaint alleges that the party has been illegally using millions of Shekels that have been coming from NGO's, and has been submitted to the Central Elections Committee, who will decide if the claims have any validity. Included in the complaint are accusations that the Labor and Ha'Tnuah parties “attempted to buy power with money... millions of dollars that come from leftists abroad are being funneled to finance the campaign to topple Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud.” The Zionist Camp denied these accusations.
A report into the spending of Prime Minister and Likud member Benjamin Netanyahu prepared by State ComptrollerYosef Shapira was released on February 17, 2015. Included in the report are records of wild and extravagant spending by the Prime Minister and his wife at their official residence, such as $18,000 spent on takeout food in a single year, despite the fact that they are provided with a personal chef with a full staff at their residence. The Netanyahu's reportedly also spent $2,120 per month cleaning their beach home, and the cleaning costs at their main residence in Jerusalem mysteriously doubled to over $300,000 between 2009 and 2013. Included in the report as well are allegations that government employees were asked to pay out of pocket for many of the Prime Minister's personal expenses, and were not reimbursed. Yosef Shapira wrote in the summary of his report that, “The meaning of a failure to pay back these invoices from petty cash is that employees absorb the cost of private expenditures of the Prime Minister or his family. When an employee is forced to pay from his own pocket for an expenditure by the Prime Minister, this is improper administration and it makes no difference whether the sum is large or small.” Shapira concluded that, “The way in which the budget of the Prime Minister’s residence was managed during the years 2009 until 2012 does not comply with the basic principles of money management, saving and efficiency and is likely to result in a waste of public funds.”
In the week leading up to the elections on March 17, 2015, Netanyahu's Likud Party trailed behind the Labor/Ha'Tnuah Zionist Union ticket. The final polls predicted that the Zionist Union would receive anywhere from 23-25 votes, and predicted that Likid would likely receive no more than 20.
In a last ditch attempt to squeeze out as many far-right votes as he could, Netanyahu stated during an interview the day before the election that there was no chance of the establishment of a Palestinian state while he remained Prime Minister. Netanyahu had previously hinted that he would be in favor of a two state solution, with an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. In an interview with the Israeli news organization NRG, Netanyahu made his opinion clear, that “whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel.” When asked if that meant that no Palestinian state would be established while he was Prime Minister, he responded “indeed.” Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu's main competitor during 2015's election, was in favor of reviving peace talks with Palestinians and working towards a two state solution. Tzipi Livni, Herzog's running-mate, was also interested in restarting peace negotiations with the Palestinians. In the days immediately following the election Netanyahu backtracked on these words, stating in an interview on MSNBC that he is in fact committed to Palestinian statehood, but only if the conditions in the Middle East improve. Netanyahu stated that he “hasn't changed [his] policy” from his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.
Netanyahu stirred up controversy on election day when he posted a campaign video on social media stating “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” The Prime Minister added that left-wing groups were providing rides for the Arab citizens to the polling stations. Critics were quick to denounce this remark as racist, comparing it to a U.S. President encouraging Caucasians to flock to the polls because African-Americans are turning out in large numbers. Arab list (Wamab) candidates asked the Likud party to remove the video from their social media presence, but they were met with no response.
Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory over his political rivals as the last of the votes came in on the morning of March 18. The Likud party received enough votes for 30 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, with the Zionist Union camp coming in second place, receiving enough votes for approximately 24. Netanyahu's last minute appeals to right wing voters paid off, leaving them energized and ready to hit the polls. Zionist Union camp leader Isaac Herzog called Netanyahu to concede, but claimed that “Nothing has changed. This is not the time for coalitions and governments. I think what Israel is most in need of is an alternative voice that continues to say the truth.” Likud will need to form a coalition government in order to reach a 61 seat majority, which will be an interesting task considering the tickets who came in second and third place are not willing to form a coalition with Likud.
Sources: Likud Official Website; Encyclopedia of the Orient; Wikipedia; Haaretz (February 5, 2015); The Gaurdian (February 17, 2015); Haaretz (March 13, 2015), Reuters (March 16, 2015); New York Times (March 17, 2015); Yahoo News (March 19, 2015)