Netanyahu plea rejection brings Likud leader candidates to submission

"I said all along I would respect any decision Netanyahu made and stay in the race until I bring the Likud back to power," said Yuli Edelstein, the only candidate still standing.

 Leader of the Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Leader of the Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Battling Likud leadership candidates folded their tents on Tuesday, following opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he was rejecting a plea-bargain agreement in his corruption cases and remaining head of Likud.

One by one, candidates Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Miri Regev and Tzachi Hanegbi announced their perpetual loyalty on social media to Netanyahu, even though they were fighting over replacing him moments earlier.

The only candidate who intends to challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership remains former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, just as before Netanyahu’s pondering of the plea deal ignited a succession contest.

“My world didn’t change,” Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post. “It has stayed exactly the same. I said all along I would respect any decision Netanyahu made and stay in the race until I bring the Likud back to power.”

Edelstein said he favors holding the contest at the end of this year, when the Likud is set to elect a new central committee, to save the party money.

 YULI EDELSTEIN – his message was that there is no reason to think that if Netanyahu leads the party again, he will have any more success in forming a government than he did the last four times.  (credit: Yonatan Zendel/Flash90) YULI EDELSTEIN – his message was that there is no reason to think that if Netanyahu leads the party again, he will have any more success in forming a government than he did the last four times. (credit: Yonatan Zendel/Flash90)

Asked if the real deadline is the August 2023 rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office that would bring Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to power, Edelstein said, “We have to act as quickly as possible [because] every day more damage is done by the present government.”

Barkat called Netanyahu to express his support for his decision to fight for his innocence in court rather than agree to the seven-year cooling-off period for crimes deemed to involve moral turpitude.

“I told the chairman of Likud and the opposition that I wanted to strengthen him and his family for his courageous decision,” he said. “We must all unite now and work together to topple this disconnected, paralyzed government.”

Hanegbi posted a picture of himself smiling with Netanyahu, calling him “the former and future prime minister” and saying that Netanyahu’s decision “brought joy to my heart and the hearts of all your supporters and people who love you.”

“The time for premature eulogizing and impatiently wishing for you to leave the field and announce the end of your leadership is over,” he said. “The new era of toppling the government and returning the Likud and the nationalist camp to power has begun.”

Katz, who talked last week about forming a new government, said: “Netanyahu made a courageous decision, and as I promised, we will all stand behind him and support him and continue working together to topple this dangerous government and return the Likud to power.”

Regev, who was the first to react to Netanyahu’s announcement, said: “Netanyahu was right to listen to the public and the faction, including myself, that he has to fight for his innocence until the end.”

Lior Meiri, who heads the anti-Netanyahu New Likudniks group, tweeted in response: “The dishrags are fighting over who will be the biggest dishrag.”