If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeds in ending rocket fire from the Gaza Strip without losing any Israeli lives, he could advance the next leadership race in his Likud party, sources in the party said Sunday.
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.
Likud sources said that if Netanyahu emerges from Operation Protective Edge with what could be characterized as a victory, he could repeat the pattern and take advantage of his post-war popularity.
In such a scenario, Netanyahu could end up facing off against only perennial candidate MK Moshe Feiglin and not more heavy competition like Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar or former welfare minister Moshe Kahlon.
Feiglin said he did not want to discuss politics while the operation was ongoing but he confirmed that he would run again. He stressed that his candidacy was not intended to show lack of confidence in Netanyahu but to change the party’s mindset.
“I give support to the prime minister while the cannons are blazing,” he said. “I won’t initiate a step to topple the prime minister. But when the election comes, just like I ran in the past, I will run in the future.”
Sa’ar’s associates declined to say whether he would run.
Sa’ar and other ministers are expected to try to block efforts by Netanyahu to advance the race if he tries to pass such a move in the Likud central committee.
Any decision to advance the race would have to pass through the central committee, which is considered much more right-wing than the prime minister. Failing to pass such a move would deal Netanyahu a political blow.
“He won’t try to do it because it’s too complicated due to internal Likud politics,” said Arik Ziv, a central committee member who edits the Likudnik website. “He can’t overcome wall-to-wall opposition in the central committee.”
The central committee was supposed to meet this coming Thursday in Ariel with Netanyahu as the featured speaker.
But the event has been postponed due to the ongoing security situation.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who heads the central committee, said Netanyahu’s actions would depend on the success of the operation. He said that if the prime minister fails to vanquish terrorism, he would not be able to gain support for his proposals from Likud activists.
One idea that has been raised is that if the operation ends well, Netanyahu could find a way to initiate not just a Likud primary but also general elections.
But other Likud sources said the prime minister wants to avoid general elections, so he would not advance the Likud primary out of fear that it could begin a process that would lead to a Knesset race.
Labor has already decided that current leader Isaac Herzog will be the party’s candidate for prime minister in the next election. Bayit Yehudi is in the process of passing a constitution that will decide how the party picks its leader and its Knesset candidates.
Bayit Yehudi was supposed to hold a key central committee meeting about the constitution this coming Thursday but the event was postponed due to the security situation.
Ahead of the meeting, party leader Naftali Bennett’s opponents placed ads criticizing the constitution in Torah portion fliers distributed to religious Zionist synagogues over the weekend. The ads were sponsored by Itzik Moshe, the head of the Bayit Yehudi branch in Jerusalem and a strong critic of Bennett.