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Netanyahu Faces Newest Challenge to Leadership in December Likud Primary

Photo credit: Haim Zach (GPO)- PM Netanyahu on Mt. Avital
Photo credit: Haim Zach (GPO)- PM Netanyahu on Mt. Avital

JERUSALEM, Israel - In less than a week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face his most serious primary challenge in years. Netanyahu has been unable to form a government after the last two general elections and now is under indictment. 

That has led to division and a lot of frustration in Israel as the country faces a third national election in less than a year.

Long before the national election next March, on December 26, more than 100,000 Likud party members will be eligible to vote for their leaders.  Gideon Sa’ar is challenging Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, to represent Likud, a position that puts the winner in line to become prime minister.

“So Gideon Sa’ar has long been known to be someone who wishes to challenge Netanyahu, for many years,” said legal expert Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.

“And he is quite popular amongst much of the Likud but really not enough it seems according to the polls to take out Netanyahu, the incumbent leader and the prime minister and the polls seem to currently suggest, quite consistently, that the Sa’ar insurgency will be serious but it’s hard to see how he can win the primaries,” Kontorovich told CBN News

Sa’ar has warned if party members don’t choose him over Netanyahu, Israel is headed for a leftwing government. But Kontorovich disagrees.

“All the polls show that between the two leaders – between the two potential leaders – maybe Likud gets more seats, maybe Likud gets less seats, but those seats generally go to other right-wing parties when it gets less seats. So no matter who wins these primaries, it seems the results will be the exact same, which is that nobody can still form a coalition,” he said.

The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon sees politically driven troubles facing leaders like President Trump and Netanyahu as the ‘new norm’.

Kontorovich said there are similarities and differences in the cases.

“There’s a sense in both cases that the legal establishment has not been exactly fair with both leaders. But they’re also quite different.  Trump is not in fact facing indictment, as a matter of fact in America it’s quite clear that you cannot indict a sitting president. He has to be removed by impeachment first. He’s being impeached, which is not a criminal proceeding, whereas PM Netanyahu is indeed facing criminal proceedings,” he said.

Kontorovich believes the US administration is frustrated with Israel’s political stalemate.

“The great shame is that Israel is wasting perhaps the world’s most valuable political resource which is Trump time. So Israel now has the single-most favourable American administration it has ever known which has already changed the diplomatic map and the diplomatic rules for Israel in ways which were unthinkable previously,” he said. 

Regardless of the primary results, the March 2 general election will make history as the third time in less than 12 months that Israelis will vote in national elections.  Unfortunately, the prospects of either side building a coalition government don’t seem any more likely than the last two attempts.

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