Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will continue deliberating on how to handle the race for president until the last minute and most likely will not endorse any candidate, sources close to him said on Wednesday, hours after he let it be known that he would not endorse Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom, who consequently decided not to run.
Netanyahu asked Likud ministers and MKs to hold off on endorsements while waiting for his decision on how to handle the June 10 Knesset vote.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman continues to wait for Netanyahu but is determined to endorse a candidate even if the prime minister does not.
Likud officials and Netanyahu associates were divided in their predictions on what Netanyahu would end up deciding.
Most said they did not believe he would back an outsider such as former foreign minister David Levy or decide to support his nemesis in Likud, former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin.
Rivlin’s campaign manager, Likud MK Haim Katz, has been trying to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Rivlin.
The prime minister postponed a meeting with Katz that had been set for Wednesday.
“Bibi’s obsession with Reuven is way too deep and personal to support him,” a source close to Rivlin said.
“He was ready to cooperate with his worst enemies ever just to prevent Reuven from winning.”
Following Shalom’s decision not to run, Likud MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Miri Regev immediately endorsed Rivlin. Netanyahu reportedly was angry at Elkin’s decision and his haste.
“The nationalist camp has only one candidate now,” Elkin said. “I think it should be clear that we stand behind him and support him.”
Rivlin’s supporters said they were not concerned about a possible run by Levy. They said him joining the race so late in the game would render him and the race a farce.
Levy’s associates said he would only run if Netanyahu and Liberman persuade him that he has close to a definite chance of winning. They said he had not even decided whether he really wanted the job.
“Running for such an honorable position requires serious consideration,” Levy told a reporter from Ynet outside the municipal building in Beit She’an, where Levy lives. “If I feel it would unify most of the nation, it would be worth it.”
Shalom made his decision on Wednesday after he received indications that Netanyahu would not support him. Shalom received the final via a headline on the website of the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom that he would not be backing him.
“If Netanyahu doesn’t support him, Liberman doesn’t support him, and Liberman’s support is critical,” a source close to Shalom said.
Shalom told confidants that the only reason he decided not to run was that the prime minister was not backing him. He expressed confidence that if Netanyahu would have endorsed him, he would have won the race.
Shalom had been considered a serious candidate for the presidency until allegations of sexual harassment derailed his plans in March.
After the case against him was dropped earlier this month, he met with Netanyahu on several occasions to discuss returning to the race as the prime minister’s preferred candidate.
Following a two-hour meeting between Netanyahu and Shalom on Monday, which did not go as well as Shalom had hoped, Netanyahu asked for two more days to consider his decision.
Shalom dismissed speculation that other factors played a part in his decision. He said he was not frightened by the potential protests by women’s groups and that he was convinced that at least half of the Yesh Atid faction would have voted for him, including party chairman Yair Lapid.
The minister’s journalist wife, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, tweeted that she “should and will be silent, for now.”
But she wrote on Instagram, “Don’t want, don’t need” – a reference to Netanyahu deciding against backing her husband and his decision to not run.
Meanwhile, Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit joined Rivlin and Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as the only candidates to get the endorsements of 10 MKs required to enter the race. The deadline to enter the race is May 27.
Former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik is not expected to have trouble obtaining enough endorsements by next week.
But other outsiders were facing difficulties.
Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner each had six endorsements as of late Wednesday.
Dorner received surprising backing from MK Amnon Cohen of Shas.