Senior Likud cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi predicted Saturday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will rule Israel for another decade, and said that he was the most suitable candidate to eventually succeed Netanyahu when he goes.
“The Netanyahu era will end in 10 or 11 years,” Hanegbi told a cultural event on Saturday, amid speculation Israel is heading toward elections, predicting the 68-year-old prime minister would serve two more terms.
Hanegbi also predicted that he would succeed Netanyahu, who has no clear number two in his Likud party. “When the time comes, I see myself as the most fit among my colleagues to run as prime minister,” said Hanegbi, who is currently minister for regional cooperation.
Hanegbi said Netanyahu is “ready for fresh elections, wants elections, but his coalition does not allow for it at the moment.”
Earlier this month Netanyahu reportedly bickered with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party in front of fellow ministers.
According to leaks from the closed-door meeting, Kahlon charged that Netanyahu was “a theoretician, a philosopher. You talk and you let us go and do.”
He added: “Even if you have 20 more years as prime minister, you won’t pass any serious reforms.”
The question of looming elections dominated the meeting, according to insiders.
The most immediate threat to the coalition’s stability is a bill to draft ultra-Orthodox seminary students. The bill must be passed by September to fulfill a demand of the High Court of Justice, but has faced pro forma opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which, despite largely supporting the legislation in off-the-record conversations, have publicly come out against it.
Netanyahu said in the meeting he hopes the coalition weathers the draft bill crisis. “This is an excellent coalition,” he said, “and I’d like to keep it going almost to the end of the term.”
The draft bill passed its first of three plenum votes last week, and Netanyahu is expected to ask the High Court for an extension of several months to hammer out a compromise.
If the court grants the extension, as is expected, the coalition will likely remain intact for the intervening months. If the Knesset dissolves itself during the fall session, the mandatory three-month campaign season means no elections are likely before the spring of 2019.
If the 20th Knesset does not dissolve itself, the next elections will take place in November 2019. However, Israeli parliaments and governments rarely last their full terms, as coalition partners find reasons to squabble in the lead-up to election years as each party seeks to differentiate itself to the voters.
Netanyahu started his current term on March 31, 2009, during which time he has won three elections, most recently in March 2015.
Netanyahu, elected for the first time in 1996, managed just over three years of his first term before losing the 1999 elections to Ehud Barak
Israel does not have term limits for prime ministers.
However, Netanyahu’s ability to see out two more terms would be largely dependent on the outcome of a series of corruption investigations he is facing.
The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in two other corruption probes, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, after police in February recommended putting Netanyahu on trial in both.
In Case 1000, in which Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with names of additional patrons of the couple, seemingly strengthening the case with the information that their alleged misdeeds were part of a pattern.
In Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes, Hefetz was said to have provided names of additional figures involved in the conversations between the two.
The prime minister is also suspect in the Bezeq probe, known as Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as prime minster, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.