This has been a bad week for Bibi. The turn to the right in the Likud primaries presents a double, if not triple, whammy to his ambitions in next February’s general elections.
His new list, stuffed with extremists and rabble-rousers who dogged Ariel Sharon’s administration, might have passed muster – just - with the Israeli public in the middle of the intifada.
Right now Netanyahu is still blazing ahead in the polls, but this has given Kadima chair Tzipi Livni a very handy stick to beat him with.
These new candidates are out of tune with Israeli society, which fundamentally has a centre-right consensus. Ariel Sharon had to go to the centre to consolidate his power; Yitzhak Rabin in his time had to go towards the right. Netanyahu knows this all too well. He might like to talk tough on security and negotiations, but his list of “stars” were mostly credible moderates to shore up his party’s centrist credentials.
They weren’t too successful. Ex-MK Dan Meridor only came in at number 17, and former security chiefs Asaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan at numbers 38 and 42 respectively. Bibi’s hard-line newcomers Benny Begin and ex-chief-of-staff Moshe Ya’alon, on the other hand, were placed at number five and eight.
This has all given Kadima chair Tzipi Livni a very handy stick to beat him with. Likud is already being characterised by Kadima as “a prisoner of the extreme right” and with some justification.
How can Netanyahu lead his country, she will ask, when he can’t even keep order in his own party? Even his existing parliamentary faction sided against him for trying to make them irrelevant with his new list of hotshots and so quietly co-operated with Moshe Feiglin – now number 20 on the list and an arch-extremist who, rather embarrassingly, is even banned from entering the UK.
This party infighting, this shift to the right, is reminiscent of the Tories in their own dark days of the 1990s under Major. And it might be tricky for Netanyahu to present this version of the Likud as a credible party of government. The whole electoral game in Israel is over less than 10 per cent of the voters, who decide whether the government coalition will be centre-right or centre-left. So February’s contest has to be won or lost near the centre – somewhere Bibi’s new Knesset list seems pretty far from.