Likud officials: Thursday's Netanyahu endorsement legally irrelevant

But leadership race can’t be held without Netanyahu’s approval

Can he win again? Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Can he win again? Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two months after all the MKs in the Likud faction were sworn to pledge loyalty to their party chairman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the 3,000 Likud central committee members will be asked on Thursday night to do the same.
The proposal, which is expected to pass unanimously, will say that Netanyahu is the Likud’s candidate for prime minister for the entire term of the 22nd Knesset, which was sworn in to a four-year term last week.
“The Likud will only join a government in which Netanyahu will be prime minister, whether for the entire term, or for part of it in a rotation agreement,” the proposal says.
Netanyahu initiated the meeting after considering holding a leadership race in order to reinforce his control over the party. He decided not to hold the race after MK Gideon Sa’ar announced he would run against him. Sa’ar does not oppose the proposal that will be brought to the committee on Thursday.
But Likud sources told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night that Thursday’s decision was legally meaningless and does not prevent another Likud leadership race from being held before the next government is formed.
“As I told Netanyahu’s aides, this decision is merely declarative, not legal,” said former MK Michael Kleiner, who chairs the Likud’s internal court. “The Likud decided in 2016 that Netanyahu was the candidate for the 21st Knesset, and because the 21st Knesset did not form a government, our court decided to also apply that decision to the 22nd.”
It is still legally possible for a leadership primary to be initiated, Kleiner said. But he said Netanyahu would have to agree to such a move.
When Netanyahu considered holding a leadership race, party officials told him that the shortest time for the primary process to be completed would be one month.
There has been speculation that if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit were to indict Netanyahu for one or more of the corruption cases he is facing, there would be a move inside Likud to replace Netanyahu. There is also an outside chance that following an indictment, the Supreme Court would intervene and decide that Netanyahu may not form a government.
Likud officials received an impression from Netanyahu that if the leadership race would be quicker, Netanyahu would have initiated the primary. If the primary would take a month, there is a chance Mandelblit would rule before the race, making it a risky move.
After Thursday’s proposal passes, Netanyahu will decide whether to invite Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for more coalition talks, or to return his mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin.