Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet with National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom for a second time in a matter of days early this week to determine whether Netanyahu will endorse Shalom for president, Likud sources said on Saturday night.
Netanyahu has been looking for a candidate who could defeat his Likud nemesis, MK Reuven Rivlin, who is considered the leading candidate.
Shalom has not decided whether to run, but an endorsement from the prime minister could persuade him to take the plunge.
When Shalom met with Netanyahu on Thursday, he did not receive a promise to support him. But Shalom told a Likud official that he received a positive impression from the prime minister.
Netanyahu was due to consult with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman before giving Shalom a final answer. Liberman has said that his 11 MKs would vote for whoever Netanyahu supports in the race.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will announce a date for the race as early as Monday.
The most likely dates are June 18 and 17, when the 120 members of the Knesset will choose the next head of state.
Another key development in the race will take place on Monday when the Yesh Atid faction is expected to finally formally decide not to endorse any candidate. The decision will pave the way for the party’s 19 MKs to endorse the candidates of their choice.
A party spokeswoman denied a report that Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and faction head Ofer Shelah would ask the MKs to endorse outsiders such as Nobel laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner in order to enable them to run. Candidates must receive 10 endorsements from MKs to run.
Solar pioneer Yosef Abramowitz had a positive meeting with Edelstein on Thursday in which he discussed his candidacy.
Abramowitz expressed hope that he would receive endorsements from lawmakers in Yesh Atid and other factions.
“[Edelstein] is appreciative of [my] candidacy,” Abramowitz wrote on Facebook. “[He] understands very much my platform and value.”
Yesh Atid MKs are expected to be told not to back MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Labor’s presidential candidate. Ben- Eliezer expressed sympathy for Shalom on Saturday at a cultural event in Tel Aviv. He downplayed the sexual harassment allegations against Shalom for which he was not indicted.
“I think Silvan was wronged,” Ben-Eliezer said.
“They looked for something and found an old episode that might have happened years ago.”
Shelah blasted Netanyahu at the event for taking so long to announce who will head the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He said the idea of appointing him a deputy minister came from Netanyahu, who wanted to fire deputy defense minister Danny Danon, a Netanyahu opponent within the Likud.
Likud officials responded that Yesh Atid put out a press release saying that it had accepted an agreement in which the party would be granted a senior deputy minister post, which it later rejected.
“We feel his frustration,” a Likud official said.