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Israel: Blow to Netanyahu as Likud primary leaves allies trailing

February 6, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Yoav Lemmer/Getty Images]

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a disappointing result in the Likud primary, as his closest allies were left trailing in lower-ranked slots and arch rival Gideon Sa’ar performed well.

Israel’s ruling Likud party held its primary yesterday, a process which determines the order in which Knesset seats will be awarded following the general election on 9 April. Though the first place spot is reserved for Netanyahu due to his role as party chairman, all other spaces on the slate were voted on by Likud members.

At the time of writing, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein were running neck-and-neck to win the vote, which will place them second and third on the Likud slate. So far 448 out of 587 ballot boxes have been counted, with a final result expected later today, Haaretz reported.

Many of Netanyahu’s close allies within the party have performed poorly, resulting in them being placed lower down the slate, including: Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev; Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan; former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.

Another ally, controversial Knesset Member (MK) Yehuda Glick, is expected to place so low on the slate that he is at risk of not gaining a seat in the Knesset following the election.

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Although Netanyahu is expected to disregard the slate order when awarding ministerial portfolios – should he win the general election and form the next government – the Jerusalem Post notes that “placement on the list is an indication of popularity in the Likud, which could signal who will eventually replace Netanyahu”.

Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s arch rival with whom he has been engaged in a bitter feud in recent months, looks set to take fourth place on the slate. This has been interpreted as a blow to the prime minister, who has worked to keep Sa’ar from gaining a high-placed seat after accusing him of colluding with Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, to plan a “coup” against him.

Netanyahu has been haunted by this supposed threat for months, in December pushing through a controversial bill under which the Israeli president can only choose a party leader to form a government, rather than any other MK. For his part, Rivlin has dismissed Netanyahu’s claims as “paranoia”.

Netanyahu’s re-election campaign has been characterised by an attack on rivals of any kind, using the blanket term “the left” to lambast the media, pro-Palestinian activists and any centrist or liberal political parties. Netanyahu says “the left” is targeting him with trumped-up accusations of corruption, and he is working hard to fend off an indictment verdict before the election. This feverish approach has been intensified by the growing threat of Benny Gantz, whose Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party has jumped in the polls in recent weeks to pose the biggest electoral challenge to Netanyahu.

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