(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not intend to initiate elections soon, despite media speculation and intensifying criminal investigations, senior Likud figures who spoke to him on Wednesday told The Jerusalem Post.
The politicians who spoke to Netanyahu dismissed as “political tactics” a leak from the Prime Minister’s Office to the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom that it is more likely that he will advance the election than a coalition partner would force it.
One figure very close to Netanyahu said he would not initiate an election without first ensuring support from potential coalition partners. He said that was what Netanyahu did the last three times he was elected, and he knew for a fact that Netanyahu had not done that now.
When Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Wednesday morning, he told ministers: “As you can see, we are continuing business as usual, and I am continuing to work for the country.”
Two ministers who attended the meeting said he gave no indication whatsoever that he was about to initiate an election.
The first public statement by Netanyahu following his former bureau chief Shlomo Filber’s decision to turn state’s witness against him was to publish on his Facebook page a poll by the Likud’s polling company, Geocartography, which found that the party would win 34 Knesset seats and Yesh Atid 20 if an election were held now.
In the Facebook post, Netanyahu compared himself to the Jews in ancient Egypt, quoting the Book of Exodus saying they would grow in numbers the more their Egyptian slave-masters tortured them.
A Poll broadcast on Channel 10 Wednesday night was also relatively positive for the prime minister, giving the Likud a 27-to-23 seat lead over Yesh Atid. The survey, taken by pollster Camil Fuchs, indicated that if Netanyahu were replaced by a different Likud leader, the results would be similar.
In less good news for the prime minister, a Channel 2 poll by pollster Mina Tzemach found that half the population wants Netanyahu to either quit or suspend himself, and 33% want him to keep his job. It found that 42% of respondents want elections and 36% do not.
Likud sources speculated that the leak to Israel Hayom
was intended to scare Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Kahlon told reporters in the Knesset on Wednesday, “There is no change in my stance regarding remaining in the coalition.”
Sources close to Kahlon said his party was readying for an election, because housing prices have gone down, something Kulanu promised during the last election campaign.
A source revealed that Bennett’s associates inquired whether the source of the headline was Netanyahu, but received assurances that an election is not on the way.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has been a staunch defender of Netanyahu throughout his criminal investigations, made his first critical statement of the prime minister on Wednesday, when he told the Russian-language Reka radio station that his party never accepted Netanyahu’s demand for unconditional control over the Communications Ministry that led to the current investigation in Case 4000.
Oren Hazan became the first Likud MK calling for Netanyahu to recuse himself, telling Israel Radio that the prime minister should “make a deal with the attorney-general to spare more embarrassment for him and the Likud, and temporarily pick an interim prime minister while he fights the charges against him.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.