Likud Calls Off Leadership Vote: Netanyahu to Remain Party Head Through 2023

Party court cancels elections, in which Netanyahu was the sole contender, in bid to save Likud $1 million.

Netanyahu during a faction meeting, January 11, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be Likud's chairman in the next Knesset general elections, the party's court decided on Wednesday after it called off the leadership vote slated for February 23. Netanyahu was the sole contender for the position after he pushed a resolution to move up the party leadership vote.

This will be Netanyahu’s seventh term as leader, a post he has held intermittently since 1993. The decision leaves him as leader until 2023.

The court said that according to the Likud constitution, there was no need for a vote when only one candidate is running. The move allowed Netanyahu to neutralize all his rivals and limit their influence on the party’s central committee.

"Quite a few senior party members, like Gideon Sa'ar, who saw themselves running for Likud leadership, were surprised by the timing and realized  that they had no chance against Netanyahu," a source in the Likud said. “Central committee members will also realize now that he doesn’t owe them anything since his position is assured," he added.

The Likud court's ruling was unanimous. The appeal to the court was made by Avigdor Hadar, chairman of the Likud Audit Committee, who demanded the void a Likud Central Committee's decision from earlier this week to hold the vote, even though Netanyahu was the sole contender. Hadar noted that the more would save the party some 4 million shekels ($1 million).

The list of candidates to head the Likud closed Sunday with Netanyahu as the only person running, assuring that he will lead the party in the next general election. The Likud election committee was faced with a decision: Hold an election in which party members could vote against Netanyahu by casting a blank ballot or simply cancel the election and declare him the winner.

The Likud election committee decided unanimously on Monday that the vote will go ahead. Party officials had feared that canceling the vote and reaffirming Netanyahu's appointment could face legal issues, with rivals claiming in the future that his election was illegal, since party members did not approve it.

David Shain, the chairman of Likud Youth, said that “despite all the criticism and scoffing in recent days, it was proven again that the Likud is the most democratic party, the most mature and united in current Israeli politics."

Cancellation of the vote is also expected to pave the way for the shifting of cabinet positions and the appointment of MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud) as a minister. Netanyahu recently made it clear that he would postpone the appointment until after the vote. Tourism Ministry Yariv Levin or Culture Minister Miri Regev are likely to take Arey Dery's place at the Economy and Industry Ministry. Another Likud lawmaker waiting for a cabinet post is Benny Begin, even though he said he wishes to remain a Member of Knesset.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have come out on Sunday in opposition to Likud’s bid to add another minister to the cabinet. Adding another Likud minister, they said, would upset the balance among coalition parties in the cabinet.