PM: Elections have a date — in a few years; Likud official: After the war, he’s done

Senior Likud members say Netanyahu won’t be able to go on after war with Hamas ends; Lapid says if he’d been premier on Oct. 7, Netanyahu ‘would have sent people to burn my house’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

In the face of increasing pressure to call early elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that the next vote for the Knesset will take place “in a few years,” per the Israeli election cycle.

Speaking at a press conference, the premier was asked about the prospect of early elections.

“The elections have a date, it’s in a few years. I suggest we don’t concern ourselves with that during the war,” he said.

The next general elections are formally scheduled for October 2026.

Netanyahu said “the last thing we need right now is elections,” arguing that voting for a new Knesset would further divide Israelis. He suggests that “if there’s one thing Hamas would like, it’s such a political fight.”

“What we need now is unity. That’s not a spin… There’s another quarter of Hamas’s organized fighting force to destroy. We will destroy it.”

Arguing it was “not the time for politics,” Netanyahu said: “I suggest everyone wait patiently.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via Flash90)

Countering the premier’s assertion, an unnamed senior Likud member speaking to Ynet said Netanyahu will not remain prime minister after the war between Israel and Hamas concludes.

“Whoever was prime minister on October 7 will finish his tenure at the end of the war,” one Likud member told the website.

Another Likud official told Ynet that “it doesn’t matter how much Netanyahu kicks the can down the road and how much he doesn’t want [elections], at the end of this war we’re heading to elections. If not through Likud, then through Likud’s coalition partners. Everyone understands that this is what’s going to happen.”

Since the October 7 massacre, which saw Hamas terrorists kill 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnap 253, Netanyahu’s approval ratings have plummeted with every poll showing his Likud party would not be able to form a coalition with current political allies were elections held now.

Trust in the government dropped to what the Israel Democracy Institute said was a 20-year low following the unprecedented attack. According to a survey released by the Jerusalem-based think tank in December, more than two-thirds of Israelis believe that elections should be called as soon as the war against Hamas is concluded.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party put out a statement following Netanyahu’s remarks, calling the press conference “another performance by an unfit prime minister who, by all accounts, has long lost the public’s trust and continues to flee from the responsibility of the greatest failure to the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

“After destroying security, the economy, and foreign policy, the realization and calls for elections as soon as possible, which are deeply rooted in most of Israeli society, are already coming from within his government and Netanyahu’s party members. Israel needs change. Elections are the order of the day.”

Earlier Saturday evening, in a Channel 12 TV interview, Lapid repeated his contention that Netanyahu was “not fit to be the prime minister of Israel,” and protested “the complete abandonment, by the government, of Israeli citizens who are sitting in the Hamas tunnels,” in reference to the remaining hostages in Gaza.

“If October 7, heaven forbid, had happened on my watch,” he also charged, Netanyahu “would have sent people to burn my house.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks to Channel 12, February 17, 2024. (Screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Lapid said Israel must be prepared to pay a higher price than it has ever paid before to secure the release of the remaining hostages from Gaza. He recalled that he opposed the 2011 deal to secure the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, but said “this is not the same thing.”

Israel should not agree to a deal “at any price… There are prices Israel cannot pay… But if we don’t get the hostages back, it won’t be a victory,” he said.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 30 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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