The Likud Central Committee is expected to decide Tuesday whether to support the proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance the election for the party’s chairman and prime ministerial candidate to next month.
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The central committee will also be choosing a chairman to replace Danny Danon, who has been appointed ambassador to the United Nations.
There are four contenders for the post: coalition chairman MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who leads the camp supporting Netanyahu; Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz, who wants to strengthen the role of the central committee members in making decisions; Knesset Interior Committee chairman MK David Amsalem, who is considered a contra to Netanyahu, and Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz. The vote is considered a test of leadership for Hanegbi, Katz and Amsalem, all of whom carry tremendous weight in the 3,700-member committee.
Netanyahu told central committee members yesterday 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.
“Lapid [Yesh Atid] does not have primaries, Lieberman [Yisrael Beiteinu] does not have, United Torah Judaism has no primaries, Arye Dery [Shas] does not have primaries and Moshe Kahlon [Kulanu] has no primaries,” Netanyahu said. “There is almost no one left except for Likud. We want to be prepared for any scenario. We are strengthening Likud and forging unity and solidarity. And if something happens – we are still in a coalition of [only] 61 – - and we will find ourselves facing elections, we will be ready,” said Netanyahu.
The central committee chairmanship is an important position because Netanyahu must work with him to make decisions regarding the management of the party. But the decision to vote on advancing the leadership primary today considerably reduces the importance of who becomes chairman.
“The power of this position is expressed primarily during the internal wrangling over the Likud leadership,” said a Likud minister. “From the moment Netanyahu shores up his leadership until 2023, as he wants to do, and blocks rivals like Gideon Sa’ar, for example, the internal struggles in the party will die out and the prime minister will have industrial peace.”
Sa’ar, who in the past had considered contending for the party leadership, announced last week that he will not be part of “the puppet theater” and would not run.
Senior party officials believe the race for central committee chairman will be primarily between Hanegbi and Katz. Although most believe Netanyahu would prefer to see Hanegbi in the post, the prime minister has not publicly supported any candidate.
Hanegbi has not gotten any public support from Likud ministers or MKs, but he is known as a thorough field campaigner who has considerable support in the central committee. “My world view is that one has to support the prime minister, to give him the tools and enable him to not deal with party matters during his term,” explained Hanegbi, who had served as central committee chairman before bolting the party for Kadima in 2005.
Katz, meanwhile, enjoys the declared support of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, Science Minister Ofir Akunis and numerous MKs and mayors. Yesterday Katz said he planned to increase the influence of the committee members who “must continue to lead the part and play a central role in decision making.”
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.