Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz ride an Israel Railways train.
(photo credit: ELIYAHU HERSHKOVITZ/POOL)
A proposal that could set a de facto term limit for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Likud party leader gained critical support Monday when it was endorsed by leading figures in the party.
The controversial proposal would require a special majority of up to 60 percent in a Likud primary for an incumbent seeking a third or later term as party leader. If such a proposal passed, the entrance of multiple candidates into a Likud leadership race could end Netanyahu’s political career.
Netanyahu bypassed the proposal by expediting the next Likud leadership race, which will be held on February 23, pending approval by Likud central committee members in a vote that will be held next Tuesday. The race will be held before the central committee has a chance to vote on the proposal, which was postponed by an internal Likud court last month.
All major figures in Likud endorsed Netanyahu’s decision to advance the primary, except Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and former minister Gideon Sa’ar. But privately, multiple Likud figures expressed frustration that Netanyahu was not making way for younger potential leaders in the party.
“He is forcing himself on us yet again,” said one Likud figure, speaking of Netanyahu but recalling the sexual misconduct allegations against Interior Minister Silvan Shalom.
The proposal could be one way to prevent Netanyahu from instigating another Likud leadership race in which no serious candidate could prepare to challenge him, as he has done repeatedly in order to ensure he remains chairman of the party.
Netanyahu appeared to warn Likud politicians not to run against him in a statement to his faction Monday about why he moved up the primary.
“Completing the internal processes of electing a chairman and a head of the central committee of Likud will project stability and strength in the coalition under the Likud leadership,” Netanyahu said.
“For the good of the party we should refrain from creating camps and lead Israel as a united party.”
Science and Technology Minister Ophir Akunis and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely endorsed Netanyahu’s initiative Monday.
Hotovely said Netanyahu was the “unquestionable leader of Likud and any attempt to create drama around the election is disconnected from the reality of Israeli politics.”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog reacted to Netanyahu moving up the Likud race by instructing the administration of his party to prepare for the next general election. He told his faction that he would try to form a bloc of parties who could win the race.
“It is clear that Israel needs a change,” Herzog told the faction.
“Bibi going to primaries shows that even he understands that time is running out for his failed coalition. He is tired and cares more about surviving politically than about the people of Israel. We will stand against Netanyahu and provide an alternative.”
Herzog faced criticism inside his faction for calling to prepare for a general election while he is working to postpone the next Labor leadership race. MKs in the faction said Herzog’s announcement was delusional.
“No one wants general elections now,” said MK Nachman Shai. “He is firing a gun with no bullets.”