MK Yuli Edelstein has reportedly been attacking former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he needs to be replaced as head of Likud for having made mistakes that lost the party the premiership.
Edelstein told associates in private conversations that many in the party agree with him that it is time for a change, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday. (Edelstein has previously been reported saying he intends to challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.)
“He [Netanyahu] made every mistake possible,” Edelstein said of Netanyahu’s strategy following inconclusive March elections, the report said. Though Likud was the largest party, Netanyahu failed to build a majority coalition, a feat eventually achieved by then opposition leader and now Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
The new government, headed by Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, was installed last week, ending over 12 years of Netanyahu as prime minister for the Likud party he led.
Lapid, who will rotate the premiership with Bennett during the government’s term, was able to form a coalition of left-wing, centrist, and right-wing parties along with the Islamist Ra’am, largely through their common goal of ousting Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu had separately offered Bennett, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, and New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar to rotate the premier’s seat with him in a coalition, he refused to step aside and let any other Likud party member be prime minister in his stead.
Several parties in the bloc that eventually formed the new government had said they would be happy to form a coalition with Likud so long as Netanyahu was not leading it.
“Why did he agree to let Gideon [Sa’ar], Bennett, Gantz, and everyone else be prime minister, just so he wouldn’t have to give a chance to anyone else in Likud?” Edelstein was said to have asked rhetorically. “Why did Likud have to lose the government?”
Edelstein said that in a couple more weeks’ time, people “will notice that he [Netanyahu] is not prime minister and the penny will drop and then they tell him the truth to his face.”
Edelstein also reportedly said that his plans to run for the party’s leadership have been well received, and that “wherever I go, people say the time has come to replace Netanyahu. I don’t intend to be second in the [party] slate, I intend to win.”
A former Knesset speaker, Edelstein is reportedly keen to see Likud primaries held in the coming months. He has told associates that he does not expect the current government to last long, but that should it start to falter it would be more difficult to challenge Netanyahu, apparently because he would still be seen as Likud’s strongest leader in an election campaign.
Edelstein is not the only one eyeing Netanyahu’s throne or who has criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the post-election political situation. Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who has said he intends to run for Likud leader should Netanyahu eventually step down, earlier this month said that Netanyahu got his “considerations” wrong and should have stepped aside to prevent a change in government.
In a TV interview broadcast the day before the new coalition was confirmed by the Knesset, Barkat said, that without Netanyahu at its helm, “Likud and the national camp would have been forming the government.”
Last month, former finance minister Israel Katz said that he had suggested that Netanyahu temporarily step aside to enable the formation of a right-wing government.
Katz said he proposed to Netanyahu that he hold fresh primaries for the party leadership, with the winner replacing the incumbent as prime minister for a single year, after which Netanyahu would presumably return. Katz said he believed he would win the primaries and temporarily become prime minister.
Netanyahu rejected the offer.
Netanyahu convincingly won Likud primaries in 2019 when he defeated a challenge by former party minister Sa’ar. Sa’ar then left Likud in 2020 to start the New Hope party, which campaigned on not serving in a government under Netanyahu.
Likud has put off holding another round of primaries since then, amid political turmoil that saw four elections in two years.