Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is unlikely to advance the next leadership race in his Likud party, due to frustration in the public about how he has handled the culmination of Operation Protective Edge and its aftermath, Likud sources said Monday.
The Likud must hold a leadership race ahead of every general election. While such races tend to be held in proximity to general elections, Netanyahu moved up the last two races to much earlier in order to catch his potential competitors off guard.
When Netanyahu’s popularity hit its peak at the height of the operation, there was speculation in the party that he would continue the trend. But his downturn in support has ended talk of that possibility.
“There has been a rise in the number of people in Likud who are unsatisfied with Bibi [Netanyahu],” an MK in Likud said. “He can no longer advance the election even if he wanted to.”
If Netanyahu would advance the race when he is popular, chances are that perennial candidate Moshe Feiglin would be the only MK who would challenge him.
But if Netanyahu looks vulnerable, his challengers could include ministers Gideon Sa’ar, Silvan Shalom, and Israel Katz and MKs Feiglin and former deputy defense minister Danny Danon, who Netanyahu fired last month.
Having so many candidates could prevent Netanyahu from winning the 40 percent of the vote required to avoid a runoff. If all the candidates unite against him in a second round of voting, anything can happen.
“That is Netanyahu’s nightmare scenario,” a Likud MK said.
Netanyahu's relations with Sa'ar have deteriorated as have his ties with other MKs in the party, including Haim Katz, Miri Regev and Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis, a former Netanyahu aide. Netanyahu's initial opposition to the candidacy of President Reuven Rivlin worsened his relationships with them.
Netanyahu’s allies in the party include ministers Yuval Steinitz and Limor Livnat and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
A Likud official said Netanyahu is still strong and that the party members are intensely loyal to their leader. He noted that Likud has had only four leaders in its history, while Labor has had several over the past dozen years.