Some settler leaders vowed this week to end Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
political career following his capitulation to the demands of US President
Barack Obama’s administration for a renewed moratorium on construction in Judea
But they realize that Netanyahu is strong politically and
that he is not currently being challenged seriously by anyone in his party. And
most of the Right would be too scared to try to unseat Netanyahu, because the
last time they did that, they brought the Left to power.
leader Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party beats Likud in some polls, but none show her
attracting enough support for the Center-Left bloc to unseat Netanyahu in the
next election. So odds are that Netanyahu will remain in the Prime Minister’s
Office beyond his current term, unless he commits a major error or a new
political knight in shining armor suddenly appears.
Nevertheless, one of
the questions that is asked most often to political analysts is about
Netanyahu’s potential successors – about which politicians are future prime
When compiling such a list, it is easy to follow
fads. But neither journalist Yair Lapid nor IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gabi Ashkenazi should be on a serious list of future contenders.
for the foreseeable future at least, should Avigdor Lieberman. The leader of
Israel Beiteinu, which won 15 seats in the last elections, Lieberman is
certainly popular among immigrants from the former Soviet Union and voters to
the right of the Likud. A former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office
in Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, he is pessimistic about
the peace process with the Palestinians, saying Israel should be working on
long-term solutions rather than rushing to reach an agreement within a year. But
he faces possible indictment over corruption allegations.
That leaves the
following seven potential Netanyahu successors – listed in alphabetical order –
with the best chances of occupying the office, come the day.
There is no doubt that the country would be ready for its second female prime
minister – after Golda Meir. Livni beat Netanyahu in the mandate count in last
year’s election. Since then, she has listened to the sage advice of her
strategists to remain out of Netanyahu’s government and instead offer an
alternative from the opposition.
But Livni would need to restore
relations with haredi parties to have any chance of forming the next government.
To that end, she has recently made an effort to build ties with possible future
Shas leaders Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias.
: With experience as
defense minister and chief of General Staff, he has the right qualifications for
future leadership. With an image as being more to the right than Livni and with
his better relations with the religious parties, he could be a better candidate
for Kadima than Livni. But she firmly controls the party, and if she defeats
Mofaz a second time, his political career could be over. Staying out of the next
primary and waiting in the wings to succeed Livni after she would lose to
Netanyahu could be the best strategy for him.
: Lists of
potential prime ministers have included him for the last four decades. He has
said that he does not intend to return to politics when he finishes his term as
president in 2014 at the age of 90, but he has denied intentions to enter
elections before, only to join the fray at the last minute.
voters traditionally do not see age as an obstacle.
If the timing works
out and the people and the polls call for Peres to come back and lead, it is
safe to say that the country’s elder statesman would oblige.
: As Netanyahu’s number two in the Likud, Sa’ar has made a point of not
flexing his political muscles and using his time as education minister to build
his reputation as the consummate professional. He has been loyal to Netanyahu
and has refused repeated requests to challenge the prime minister from the Right
and Left. Sa’ar is a smart politician and will continue to build himself
politically at his own pace. But his current battles with the haredim could hurt
his chances, because they tend to be kingmakers.
: The only
potential candidate who has been foreign minister, finance minister, vice
premier, science minister and deputy defense minister, he easily is the most
qualified successor on paper.
But Netanyahu’s loyalists in the Likud will
do anything possible to prevent his advancement, and they remain the majority in
the party. Shalom needs to handle himself smartly and be careful not to appear
to be too vengeful to Netanyahu, despite not being given a senior portfolio when
Netanyahu formed his government. If Shalom does, he could still be Netanyahu’s
: The Finance Ministry has traditionally
been a political burial ground, but that changed when Netanyahu used it as a
springboard to resurrect his career. The prime minister surprised many by giving
his ally Steinitz such a plum portfolio for his first cabinet position.
Netanyahu would surprise no one if he chooses to promote him again in his next
term to the Foreign Ministry, where the English-speaking Steinitz would be a
natural fit. Then, the sky would be the limit for him.
former chief of General Staff could gain experience in a top portfolio if Labor,
as expected, leaves the coalition ahead of the next election. In that case,
Ya’alon is expected to become defense minister – a post he could use to groom
himself to be Netanyahu’s successor. He is already the favored candidate of the
settlers. A deep thinker, his ideology is the closest to Netanyahu’s, and he,
unlike Netanyahu, has remained loyal to it. The question is whether he, too,
would become more pragmatic if the Prime Minister’s Office was at stake.