After Party Votes to Clip Netanyahu's Wings, Likud Backs Down

Party secretariat revoked a number of key powers from prime minister, but after Netanyahu called in the chairman for a talk, move was put on ice.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Yoav Davidovich

The Likud secretariat voted Tuesday to revoke a number of managerial powers away from the party’s chairman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, by Wednesday morning, the vote's implementation was frozen after Netanyahu called in the secretariat's chairman for a talk.

Tuesday’s decisions effectively prevented Netanyahu from continuing to appoint his own cronies without the secretariat’s consent. The secretariat, currently headed by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, was even given the ability to impose financial sanctions on any such appointee. However, on Wednesday morning, Katz was called in for a meeting with Netanyahu and he decided to postpone the implementation of the new rules.

Under the new rules voted on on Tuesday, senior party functionaries like the director general and department heads will be able to serve for a maximum of eight years. Moreover, any new hires or contracts with outside service providers will have to be approved in advance by the secretariat.

Finally, the secretariat decided to hire its own legal adviser, Ilan Bombach, who will work independently of the party’s legal adviser. The latter functionary, attorney Avi Halevy, is considered close to Netanyahu.

According to Likud’s bylaws, the secretariat, which compromises 99 Knesset members and central committee members, is responsible for managing the party’s institutions. Over the past year, Katz has tried to inject real content into this responsibility, resulting in clashes with Netanyahu, who has long controlled the party in his role as chairman.

Tuesday’s decisions were supposed to prevent Netanyahu from continuing appointing his own cronies to key positions or hiring outside service providers without the secretariat’s consent. And should he try to circumvent these rules, the secretariat was given a powerful weapon to deploy in response: It can fine any worker who signs such a contract by an amount equivalent to the entirety of the unauthorized expenditure.

Though the new decisions were to take effect immediately, on Wednesday, following Netanyahu's meeting with Katz, it was decided that a special committee will be set up to discuss the party's administrative polices – its first test will come in the appointment of a new director general for the party. The incumbent, Gadi Arieli, is expected to resign soon.

Three powerful ministers have recently joined forces to form an opposition to Netanyahu within the party: Yisrael Katz, Haim Katz and Zeev Elkin. And Netanyahu’s troubles are compounded by the fact that he currently lacks a political adviser, since Kobi Tzoref, who previously held that job, left last week.

Netanyahu still has the backing of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who has a powerful base of support in Likud. But she wasn’t present at Tuesday’s secretariat meeting, since she was on her way home from the Rio Olympics.

Only two of the dozens of people who attended Tuesday’s meeting voted against the decisions: Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi and central committee member Tzachi Barabi.

Now, Netanyahu is expected to try to fight these decisions through legal channels. Even before the vote, Halevy had petitioned Likud’s internal court against the proposals, but the court declined to hear the petition, saying it didn’t expect any decisions to be made at Tuesday’s meeting. Now that the decisions have been made, Halevy will presumably go back to court and ask the judges to overturn them.