In Win for Netanyahu, Likud Votes for Early Primaries, Safeguarding His Leadership

However, Haim Katz sweeps vote for Likud central committee chairmanship, in win which sources say could mean trouble for Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 14, 2015.
Olivieh Fitoussi

The Likud party primary election will be moved forward to February, the Likud Central Committee voted on Tuesday, effectively accepting the Prime Minister Netanyahu's proposal from earlier this month.

The early date will all but safeguard Netanyahu's retention of the party's leadership, as it leaves little time for substantial competition to throw their hat in the race. The move could cement Netanyahu's role as the Likud contender for the premiership during the next election and even until 2023.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz.
Emil Salman

In Tuesday's vote, Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz, who aims to strengthen the role of the central committee members, won an internal party vote for committee's new chairman, a highly coveted position.

A senior party official said Katz's win bodes poorly for Netanyahu, and shows that the true strongman in the ruling party is Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who threw his entire political weight behind Katz's bid. "It also gives former-minister Gideon Sa'ar, who also supported Katz, sway [within the party]."

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud rally in Nov. 2012.
Abdullah Shama

Haim Katz will be take over for Danny Danon, who was named Israel's ambassador to the UN. Katz received the position after having beat out other contenders: Party whip Tzahi Hanegbi – who leads the camp supporting Netanyahu, Knesset Interior Committee chairman MK David Amsalem – who is considered a contra to Netanyahu, and Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz.

According to the Likud source, "as long as Netanyahu's and Katz's interests remain the same, the prime minister will have no problem with his new central committee chairman. But the moment that some political disagreements surface and it is safe to assume they will, Netanyahu will need to do some heavy weight political maneuvering to advance his agenda."

Though Netanyahu did not endorse any of the contenders for the committee's chairmanship directly, it was clear he was hoping Hanegbi would win. Hanegbi said ahead of the vote that he would give Netanyahu "industrial silence" should he be elected. Amsalem for his part, echoed Katz in calling for a more prominent role for party members in decision making processes.

Netanyahu's successes in moving up the date for the primary will limit the incoming committee chairman's role in setting the party's agenda. For if the prime minister will secure his leadership of the party, he will no longer need the committee member's support. Far from upgrading their power and status, as Amsalem had wanted, their political power would wane dramatically.

Netanyahu told central committee members Monday that he seeks to “complete the Likud’s internal matters as quickly as possible because I think it is right and will be good for the party.”

He wished all the candidates success in Tuesday's committee leadership vote, adding, “It is also important to elect the chairman of Likud and its candidate for prime minister in order to unite the movement and ensure that factionalism and divisiveness are not our legacy.

Though many senior Likud officials oppose moving up the party chairmanship primary, Katz, who chairs the Likud secretariat, has reached an agreement with Netanyahu to support the move in exchange for various concessions, such as requiring central committee approval for running for Knesset on a joint list with other parties.