Israel Election Results: Biggest Netanyahu Rival Within Likud Says 'No One Is Challenging' His Status as Party Leader

Gideon Sa'ar, who Netanyahu has accused of trying to overtake him, said earlier this week he would contend for the No.1 spot should Likud hold a primary election

Gideon Sa'ar at the swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest rival within his Likud Party, Gideon Sa'ar, said on Saturday that a move to convene party members to reiterate that the premier is the only appropriate prime ministerial candidate was unnecessary.

"No one is challenging Netanyahu's role as Likud chairman," Sa'ar wrote in a statement on Twitter. However, Sa'ar added that "when there is a race for the party leadership, as Netanyahu initiated several days ago, I will contend [for the role]."

>> Read more: Alongside pleas for unity, Netanyahu revealed his bluff: There will be no rotation agreement | Analysis

Sa'ar, a former education minister who Netanyahu has often accused of trying to overtake him, was referring to the Likud statement on Thursday that the premier was considering holding a snap primary election for the party's leadership.

Likud stated that "the purpose of the move was to destroy the illusion of a Likud coup that other parties yearn to see happen, which stops them from joining a unity government." After it was announced that a primary election will indeed take place, Sa'ar took to Twitter to announce: "I'm ready." 

However, Netanyahu decided on Friday to walk back his decision to hold a primary election. Netanyahu's concerns that a different Likud member would try to snatch the mandate to form a government has led him in the past to try to promote legislation that would obligate the president to choose a candidate to form a coalition only among party leaders. The bill was dubbed the "Gideon Sa'ar Law." 

In a statement, Netanyahu wrote that Likud members will be required to back an announcement according to which Likud would only agree to join a government with Netanyahu at its helm, whether for a full term or for a rotating premiership in a deal with any other party. Nonetheless, the party members would not be obligated to determine that Netanyahu must be the first to serve as prime minister is any future rotation agreement. 

Against the backdrop of these developments and an ongoing deadlock in coalition negotiations, Netanyahu is expected to convene the cabinet on Sunday for the first time in two months.

Normally, the defense cabinet convenes at the beginning of each week, but recently its meetings have been irregular. Earlier this week Netanyahu said that Israel faces "an enormous security challenge that grows from week to week."

At the swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, Netanyahu warned in an address against the regional threat posed by Iran. This situation should make politicians realize that Israel must set up a broad unity government, he said.