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Likud rivals Netanyahu, Edelstein said cooperating to move up party primaries

While Edelstein plans to challenge former PM, both have an interest in holding the leadership contest sooner rather than later, in a bid to deter other contenders

Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK Yuli Edelstein during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget  in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK Yuli Edelstein during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and senior party lawmaker Yuli Edelstein, who has said he plans to challenge the long-time party leader, have agreed to work together in order to have their faction’s primaries moved up to as soon as the beginning of 2022, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Netanyahu and Edelstein reportedly met in the opposition chairman’s Knesset office on Wednesday night, a somewhat surprising sit-down, given that Edelstein last month announced his intention to challenge Netanyahu for the party leadership, insisting that Likud would not be able to return to power, so long as its current chairman remained at the helm.

The meeting lasted for over an hour and was characterized as positive, according to Channel 12. While the two will ostensibly be running against one another, they agreed to cooperate in order to limit the competition, the report said.

Netanyahu is believed to be interested in holding primaries as soon as possible because doing so would secure his leadership of the party until the end of the next Knesset term.

Dissent in the party is expected to grow the longer they remain in opposition, something that looks like being for a significant amount of time after Netanyahu failed to stop the coalition from passing a budget this week.

This will likely see additional lawmakers emboldened to declare their candidacy, so Netanyahu would ostensibly prefer to hold primaries before that happens.

Edelstein’s position is more complex, though. While he is the only Likud lawmaker to have so far announced his plan to challenge Netanyahu, recent polling indicated that he doesn’t have nearly enough support to oust him. While he might be able to benefit from additional time, in reportedly agreeing to cooperate with Netanyahu, Edelstein appears to be gambling that he’ll have a better chance as Netanyahu’s sole rival.

Regardless, Netanyahu and Edelstein — a former Knesset speaker who placed at No. 2 in the party’s last primaries — are sure to face significant opposition within the party.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem. (Yonathan Sindel/Pool/AFP)

MKs Haim Katz and Israel Katz are deeply opposed to holding primaries so soon and both hold significant clout within the party’s internal institutions. The latter has also stated that he plans to run for Likud leadership, but only after Netanyahu bows out — a position that will likely become more difficult to maintain as more time goes by.

Israel Katz appears to believe that Netanyahu is more likely to bow out if primaries are delayed.

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman told Channel 12 Friday that opposition to Netanyahu within Likud is growing.

“In the last three days in the Knesset, almost every Likud MK came up to me and said: ‘We were idiots for listening to him and not insisting on passing a budget,’” Liberman said, although he conceded that most Likud members were not yet going public with their opposition to the long-time party leader.

“The era of obedience there (to Netanyahu) is over,” he predicted.

Netanyahu is widely believed to have torpedoed the previous budget efforts last year, under his power-sharing government with Benny Gantz, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid passing the premiership on to Gantz as had been agreed between the two as part of their short-lived deal.

That fight led directly to the collapse of the last government and the most recent election, the results of which saw Netanyahu ousted from office in June.

Likud last held primaries in 2019. The party is famously averse to leadership changes and has been led by Netanyahu for nearly two decades.

A June TV poll found former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is Likud voters’ preferred candidate to succeed Netanyahu if he were to quit as leader of the party. Cohen has not yet formally entered the political arena.

Asked who they would back as Likud leader if Netanyahu were to retire, 27% of Likud respondents said Cohen, followed by Likud MK Nir Barkat with 16%, according to the Channel 12 poll.

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