Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon was elected head of the Likud convention by a landslide late Tuesday in a show of force ahead of Sunday’s critical vote for the chairmanship of the Likud Central Committee.
A victory Sunday against two relatively anonymous opponents would grant him control over the ruling party’s powerful internal apparatus and the power to stymie any initiative that requires the approval of the committee’s 3,500 members.
The rise of the hawkish Danon underlines Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slipping grip over his party, widely considered to be a result of the Likud’s shift rightward and the perceived failure of the merger with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party ahead of January’s general elections.
Netanyahu initially intended to challenge Danon for the right to head the Likud convention but withdrew his candidacy this week to spare himself an embarrassing loss. Danon’s victory Tuesday is largely symbolic, however, as the convention closes next week. He won 85% of the ballots, though only 27% of eligible Likud members voted.
Running against Danon in the far more significant vote on Sunday will be Michael Fuah, a member of the national Orthodox Jewish Leadership group, and Ness Ziona Mayor Yossi Shavo. Neither is considered a member of the Netanyahu camp.
In a speech to party activists Tuesday, Danon pledged to revitalize the party if he’s elected chairman of the central committee.
“Today’s results will have one clear message: The Likud is returning to the field,” he said at a meeting of party activists. “We’ll bring back to Likud the living spirit, the young, ideological spirit.”
Alluding to the fact that as chairman, he will have the power to challenge any diplomatic initiative presented by Netanyahu, Danon added, “If a few days from now, there will be some diplomatic plan or another, it will be brought to a vote, because these things are part of the essence of democracy.”
In an interview with The Times of Israel earlier in June, Danon asserted that Likud and the governing coalition were staunchly opposed to a two-state solution and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote. That interview precipitated a flurry of condemnations, but also prompted other senior members of the coalition to voice their reservations to Palestinian statehood.