Challenge for Likud leadership: Sa’ar demands primaries in bid to topple Netanyahu

In past years, the Likud Central Committee meeting demonstrated a show of unity. This time was different.

By World Israel News Staff

It was a dark and stormy night at the Likud Central Committee meeting on Sunday in Tel Aviv as the party’s embattled leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was challenged for the Likud’s leadership by MK Gideon Sa’ar.

In past years, the Likud Central Committee meeting demonstrated a show of unity, daily paper Yediot Ahronot reported on Monday. Yesterday’s meeting was filled with a mixture of catcalls and cries of “Here comes the next prime minister.” Both were directed at Sa’ar.

Sa’ar came to the meeting to demand that a second meeting be scheduled in order to vote on whether to hold a contest for leadership of the Likud. He made his speech over loud, continuous cries against him by Netanyahu loyalists.

“They’re trying to slander whoever wants to compete for the Likud leadership,” he said in his speech.

“I’m determined to compete for the head of the movement with the understanding that a change is needed, an urgent turn in order to extricate the state from the continuing political crisis, to establish a government headed by Likud, and to unite the nation,” Sa’ar said.

Netanyahu, who spoke later, said “We still don’t know if we’re going to elections. We’re making a last effort not to go to elections, but if it’s forced on us – we’ll win big.”

Earlier in the day, at a Jerusalem conference, Netanyahu took a shot at Sa’ar, suggesting that whoever challenged his leadership and split the Likud, “in essence forfeits Judea and Samaria.”

Sa’ar, who spoke at the same conference, said “The future of Judea and Samaria has to be assured with deeds not words.”

The purpose of the Likud Central Committee meeting was two-fold: 1) to cancel primaries for the Likud list so that Likud members would not have to compete for their seats again if Knesset elections are held, and 2) to approve the Norwegian Law, which allows ministers or deputy ministers to resign their Knesset seats but still remain ministers. The law will enable other Likud members lower on the party list to enter the Knesset.

A decision on whether to hold a contest for party head was not made at the meeting. Likud officials said no decision on primaries for Likud leadership will be made until the current Knesset dissolves, a necessary step toward new elections, which are expected to take place in early March barring the formation of a government, which election observers consider unlikely.