Former Israeli minister and senior Likud figure Gideon Sa'ar yesterday declared that the party should hold a leadership primary in case of a third election, reported Haaretz.
In a direct challenge to embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was formally indicted by the Attorney General on various corruption charges, Sa'ar said that he believes he is "able to form a government", adding: "I think I will be able to unify the nation".
Speaking at a conference organised by the Jerusalem Post in Jerusalem, Sa'ar said that although he supports Netanyahu's efforts towards national unity, it was unreasonable to expect "that the prime minister will be successful in forming a government", in the case of a third election.
"I think the necessary thing to do, if we are faced with new elections, is to set a Likud leadership primary," Sa'ar affirmed.
The intervention by a man widely seen as a future Likud leader is a challenge to the position staked out on Wednesday by Netanyahu and Likud central committee chair Haim Katz, who said they will "present a joint proposal that there would be no primaries for the Likud list".
As Haaretz noted, "Netanyahu is looking to prevent the contest to strengthen his candidacy and thwart possible divide within the party."
A Likud source told the paper that the move is also intended to prevent "the defection of Knesset members from the back benches of the Likud to a possible coalition headed by Gantz in the next 21 days" – the current time period during which any MK can try to assembly a working majority.
Likud lawmaker Yoav Kish said Thursday he opposes the cancellation of the primaries, while Culture Minister Miri Regev, on the other hand, supported the move to remain united around Netanyahu.