(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Likud’s election committee decided Thursday to endorse a decision by the party’s internal court to cancel the February 23 leadership race and declare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the uncontested winner.
The decision ended a legal dispute over whether to hold a single candidate Likud primary once it emerged that Netanyahu was running unchallenged.
Committee chairman, former Haifa District Court judge Menahem Neeman, said Netanyahu would be the party’s candidate for prime minister in the next election and no leadership contest could be held beforehand.
The decision meant Netanyahu had effectively won a seventh term as Likud leader.
Since the state’s founding Likud, once known as Herut, has had only four leaders: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Netanyahu.
All have also served as prime minister.
Begin, the first Likud leader to serve as prime minister, held the party leadership post the longest, covering nine terms.
While there is no indication that Netanyahu would choose to sit out a future Likud leadership race, two expected candidates in the post-Netanyahu era will give dueling speeches at an event in two weeks in Eilat.
The main speaker at the “Likudiada” will be Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who joined Likud last month, was added to the docket of speakers on Thursday.
Ya’alon told Army Radio Thursday that he would not run for Likud leader as long as Netanyahu is a candidate.
Now that the Likud leadership race is over, Netanyahu is expected to make long-awaited appointments in the party as early as next week. The most likely scenario is that Tourism Minister Yariv Levin will be named economy minister and coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi as tourism minister.
There will be a battle for coalition chairman between MKs David Bitan and Mickey Zohar.
Bitan proved his right-wing credentials Thursday by visiting Hebron. Zohar has campaigned for support from the party’s growing religious sector by introducing legislation later pigeonholed for stirring controversy, to force all businesses to shut on Shabbat.
Hanegbi’s other post as head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is being sought by MKs Avi Dichter, Yoav Kisch and Anat Berko.