Netanyahu, Likud Party Rival Agree to Hold Leadership Primary Election on December 26

Gideon Sa'ar says decision, which comes as the Knesset inexorably advances toward a third election, is 'necessary'

Gideon Sa'ar at Likud party headquarters, Tel Aviv, September 17, 2019
Ofer Vaknin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud party rival Gideon Sa’ar have agreed their party will hold a leadership primary election on December 26. The party's central committee is expected to confirm their agreement.

Earlier this week, the Likud Central Committee decided by a large majority to cancel a general primary, resolving only to hold a leadership contest ahead of the third election inside a year. All other potential lawmakers will remain in the spot they held for the previous election.

Sa’ar welcomed the annoucement on Wednesday, saying he would run a “positive, clean and substantive campaign” in a post on his official Facebook page. The country needs to turn around, he wrote, enabling the persisting political crisis to end, a strong government to be formed and the people of Israel to be united.

On Sunday, Sa’ar said the primary contest was necessary not just to respect the rights of party members, but because it was in the party’s bylaws. During his speech, he argued it was "permissible to race even against a person who has been prime minister for 14 years,” to heckling by Netanyahu supporters. “Attempts to delegitimize and smear contenders goes against the character and democratic tradition of Likud,” he added.

Also this week, Sa'ar said that he believes Netanyahu would not be able to form a government, even after a third election. He added that he does not intend to leave Likud, which is his home, and that is where he will contend.

Likud lawmaker Yoav Kish threw his support behind Sa’ar on Saturday, saying it was the only way to preserve a right-wing government. “When I look at the years to come, I don't see us getting out of this," Kish said on Meet the Press, on Israel's Channel 12. "We will miss the days of the [narrow] 55-member bloc. We will be handing over the government of the right on a silver platter to the left,” he added.

Lawmaker Michal Shir, elected for the first time in April 2019, also stated her support for Sa’ar, calling him the most suitable person to build a government and preserve the values of the nationalist camp.