Heading to opposition, Likud lawmakers prepare for fierce internal battles

Several MKs said to object to Netanyahu maintaining full control over the party and hope to deny him a snap leadership primary

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, seen with Likud's Tzachi Hanegbi, right, and Yuval Steinitz, left during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, seen with Likud's Tzachi Hanegbi, right, and Yuval Steinitz, left during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud set to be displaced as the ruling party for the first time in 12 years, its Knesset members are beginning to prepare for life in the opposition, with some reportedly planning to push back against the premier’s continued pervasive control of the party.

Seventeen of the 30 incumbent Likud MKs are ministers in the outgoing government, and now the party will have to suffice with just a handful of official Knesset positions available to the opposition. The battle over who receives them is expected to be fierce.

Several MKs have reportedly expressed unwillingness to give Netanyahu full control over the future of the faction in the Knesset.

As is generally the case, the new opposition will head three parliamentary committees — likely to be the State Oversight Committee, the Economy Committee, and the Science Committee — and according to Channel 12 news, some Likud members are refusing to let Netanyahu dictate who will be appointed.

“This time we will not allow Netanyahu to set the rules of the game on his own,” a senior Likud member was quoted by the channel as saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The eight-party “change government” alliance, headed by prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, anticipates winning a 61-59 majority in the confidence vote set for Sunday. If successful, the new government would represent a sea change in Israeli politics, ousting Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Netanyahu has signaled that he plans to remain Likud chair and continue to lead the party in the opposition.

According to the Channel 12 report, in an attempt to quash possible challengers, Netanyahu is hoping to hold a snap leadership primary that would take place as soon as possible after the new government is sworn in.

But Likud officials are reportedly saying they will not allow him to do so, demanding a fair race that will allow Netanyahu’s competitors to prepare their bid for the party leadership. This, however, would require a change in party procedure that would need to be ratified by committees still staffed by Netanyahu loyalists.

Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Gideon Sa’ar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, Nov. 21, 2005. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Netanyahu convincingly won Likud primaries in 2019 when he defeated a challenge by former party minister Gideon 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 and intends to be part of the new coalition.

Likud has put off holding another round of primaries since then, amid political turmoil that saw four inconclusive elections in two years.

Should the party head to the opposition on Sunday, senior party member Yuli Edelstein, the health minister, plans to challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership this time around, Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, reported last week.

Edelstein is popular in Likud, placing first in the most recent primaries, but he is not the only one eyeing Netanyahu’s throne.

Finance Minister Israel Katz told Likud activists last week that in an attempt to prevent the party’s fall from power, he had suggested that Netanyahu step aside temporarily to enable the formation of a right-wing government.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz (L) with Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein, October 18, 2016, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. (Flash90)

Former Jerusalem mayor MK Nir Barkat is also seen as a strong possible contender, having recently done well in a number of polls asking who should head the Likud.

Speaking to Channel 12 news Wednesday morning, Likud MK David Bitan, a former faction head, rejected the idea of primaries, saying Netanyahu would continue to lead the party.

“I’m against primaries now, there’s no need for that,” Bitan said. “The chairman of the opposition is Netanyahu. There is no question about that. He has no need to determine anything.”

Most Popular
read more: