Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon’s appointment as ambassador to the UN began a race over the weekend to replace him in the powerful post of head of the Likud central committee.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will choose between MKs Bennie Begin and Tzachi Hanegbi to fill the cabinet vacancy. Netanyahu, however, is not expected to announce which of the two will become a minister until the Knesset returns from its extended summer recess in October.
While a replacement for the cabinet post will be decided by Netanyahu alone, the 3,000-member central committee, which Danon also headed, will elect its own new leader. The head of the central committee becomes interim leader when the party chairman leaves, among other powers vested in the office.
Hanegbi, who headed the committee for eight years, announced his intention to run for the post immediately after Danon’s appointment was published. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev also said she was seeking the post, while MK David Amsalem threw his hat in the ring on Sunday morning.
Neither Regev nor Amsalem is considered close to Netanyahu, who is also reportedly considering running for the post himself in order to prevent it from being used to rebel against him, as it was by Danon.
Likud activists opposed to Netanyahu said they are trying to draft his former No. 2 in the party, Gideon Sa’ar, to end his political timeout and seek the post.
“He told us he [Sa’ar] is seriously considering running,” Ashkelon Likud activist Eli Cornfeld said. “The only way for him to come back is as chairman of the central committee. Otherwise, he’ll never come back. He can restore life to the party.”
Sa’ar said he could not confirm what the activists said about him.
Danon declined to comment about his appointment at an international science convention on Sunday. He sat at the event next to former UN ambassador and Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, but associates of Danon said they did not talk about the job. “They behaved diplomatically,” a source close to Danon said.
Responding to criticism about his appointment, Danon’s associates said he would behave like a diplomat in the post, representing the policies of Israel’s government.
Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer said on Sunday that the appointment would lead to increased international pressure on Israel. “This is another small step toward the end of the occupation,” Oppenheimer said in an interview with the broadcast radio network VoiceofIsrael.com.