Likud MK Moshe Feiglin announced Thursday morning that he was backing out of the race for the party leadership, a day after an internal court decided that the vote for the primaries would proceed ahead of its scheduled date after all.
A proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move up the primaries from January 6 to December 31 was initially rejected, but the court overturned its decision Wednesday night and approved the motion, after Netanyahu appealed the decision.
“The court’s approval of the appeal changes the rules of the game and places me in an impossible position of fighting on two fronts simultaneously,” Feiglin wrote in a Facebook post.
“I do not intend to drag the party into another legal proceeding ahead of the national elections. At this time, we must unite and preserve Likud as the ruling party. I intend to run this time only for [a seat in the] Knesset,” he said.
Feiglin, a hardliner who heads the increasingly powerful “Jewish leadership” grouping within Likud, added that when “real party primaries” are held in the future, he will run for the leadership.
Netanyahu’s motion to move up the primaries was ostensibly intended to clear the way for the chosen Likud head to begin preparations for the March 17 elections as soon as possible, but was seen by many as an attempt to thwart a rumored leadership bid by popular former minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Sa’ar announced last Thursday that he would not run for the party leadership.
Sa’ar was a rising star within the Likud until he left his post as interior minister. When he left the government in November, he said he wanted to spend time with his family, having recently remarried, and that his relationship with the prime minister was not as good as it had once been. It was widely presumed that he would eventually return to politics in order to vie for the party’s leadership, but if so the rapid collapse of the coalition, after just 20 months, came to soon for him.
MK Danny Danon, the Likud Central Committee chairman who on Thursday remained the sole rival in the leadership race to Netanyahu, hinted last month that Sa’ar and former popular minister Moshe Kahlon, who is making a comeback at the head of a new party, Tekuma, had both resigned because of the prime minister.