Netanyahu faces tough challenge in Thursday primary vote

Netanyahu faces tough challenge in Thursday primary vote
Netanyahu faces criminal charges of corruption and now a leadership challenge from inside his very own party, Likud.
3 min read
25 December, 2019
Netanyahu [Getty]
Politicians from Benjamin Netanyahu's party are set to pile pressure on the embattled prime minister on Thursday, when the ruling right-wing Likud Party is set to hold a leadership primary to establish who will lead it in Israel's next general election.

This comes as Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, tries to bat away an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into alleged war crimes by Israeli forces in Palestine.

The long-time premier also faces three seperate criminal cases on corruption charges, as well as internal opposition in his Likud party over over two inconclusive national elections earlier this year.

Netanyahu has denied the allegations against him as a "witch-hunt".

Gideon Saar heads up the opposition within the party and has issued a public challenge from Likud, members of which are reportedly increasingly in support of a leadership change.

Reports suggest that Netanyahu has a strong chance of remaining at the head of Likud, but he needs a decisive win by a wide margin to send the entire party a message that only he can lead them - something that has eluded him for the past few years. The 53-year-old challenger's bid, meanwhile, is gaining momentum.

"He [Netanyahu] has failed twice, but it is not because of the Likud’s ideas," Saar, a far-right deputy calling for a "renaissance" of the Israeli right" said as he launched the campaign.

Israelis are headed to the polls on March 2 for an unprecedented third election in 12 months. Previous attempts in April and September this year failed to yield a decisive majority or coalition government.

Saar broke ranks by challening Netanyahu [Getty]

"If we do not make a change, we are getting close to a left-wing government," Saar added. "Only Saar can!"

The former interior and education minister is especially popular with the far-right wing of the government due to his favourable stance towards illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has support from some members of his party, however. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has endorsed Netanyahu, calling on party members to vote for him.

Addressing the party in a Facebook video, he said: "After taking all of the considerations into account, I have come to the conclusion that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the most suitable person to continue to lead Likud and the country."

Read more: Closing the decade: 10 events that drastically changed the Middle East

Saar's candidacy, he added "was worthy and maintains democracy in the movement. Contrary to some other voices being heard, I am convinced that it strengths Likud".

What would Saar's leadership mean for Palestine?

Saar is seen as a potential leader likely to drag the already right-wing government further in that direction.

He has criticised Netanyahu for not taking bolder action to push for an Israeli claim on the occupied West Bank.

On the campaign trail, Saar has derided the two-state solution as an "illusion".

Though Netanyahu has expanded Israeli settlements in the West Bank and pledged to annex parts of it if re-elected, Saar has criticised him of not being aggressive enough.

"Bibi [Netanyahu] did not a great job so far but it won't work this time," said 67-year-old Reuven Peleg about the current prime minister. "People want an authentic leader with roots in Likud and a clear ideology. Saar is the cleanest man I know."

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