With Likud election defeat, leadership primary could be on the way

If the ruling party goes into the Opposition next week, at least three men will contend to replace Netanyahu as Likud chairman, reports indicate.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Talk of a leadership primary in the Likud is fast gaining steam now that it looks likelier than ever that the ruling party is headed for the Opposition.

If Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid manages to get a majority of the Knesset behind a unity government, at least three top Likud figures have indicated that they will challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the chairmanship of the party after he has sat in the seat for the last 12 years.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told his confidants that he will probably jump into the leadership race, Zman Yisrael reported Monday. As the No. 2 man in the party, the former longtime Speaker of the Knesset said he believes he has a good chance to win.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz told party activists Sunday that he had proposed a snap primary following Netanyahu’s latest failure to form a government, according to which the winner would serve as prime minister for a year before stepping aside again for Netanyahu. This would have opened the door to New Hope’s Gidon Sa’ar joining a stable, Likud-led government, as his party is ideologically right-wing but refuses to sit with the current prime minister.

Katz said that he thought he could win that primary, considering his seniority in the party (No. 3) and his past success in heading the transportation, intelligence and foreign ministries, along with his current stint as finance minister. When Netanyahu refused, however, he went back into line, at least temporarily.

Katz also castigated a fellow MK whose actions indicate that he’s thinking big – former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Barkat is organizing a conference in the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center for Likud activists in some two weeks’ time, titled “Presenting My Vision” for Israel. He has also had staffers calling Likud central committee members and asking them what they think of him and inviting them to share their concerns and priorities for the country.

Katz slammed Barkat Friday for his ambitious undertaking while the political ground has not yet settled, saying, “Never in the history of the Likud has there been such a subversive action against an incumbent prime minister.”

This was not an acceptable way of running for leadership, he added, since the Likud has “accepted rules” as to how and when to challenge an incumbent – which Katz clearly indicated he will do when the time is right.

Barkat jumped into the No. 9 spot in the Likud after leaving office at the end of 2018. He is now in seventh place. Despite his high ranking, he has served only as a backbencher for the last two and a half years. This has been duly noted by the pundits, who attribute his continual lack of a cabinet seat to the fact that he is considered a great threat by more senior contenders for party head.

This view is backed by an April poll for Radio 103 FM, where he came out far ahead of his colleagues. While 23% of Likud voters chose Barkat to theoretically replace Netanyahu, his closest contender, Gilad Erdan, who has held several ministerial posts and is currently Israel’s ambassador to the UN and the US, received only 13% of the vote. Edelstein and Katz came in at seven percent and six percent, respectively.