As Likud was being asked to vacate the government’s seats and take up the opposition benches, Israeli pundits agreed about the three Likud seniors who would vie for MK Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership of the party: former Finance Minister Israel Katz, former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and former Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. Katz made his first attempt more than a year ago and was repelled easily by the sitting PM. Nir Barkat organized a huge party for thousands of rank and file party members around the time it became clear the ship was going down. And now, one week into the new government, the third challenger has come out—still behind closed doors—and declared that he was planning to take it all.
Edelstein, who is married to married Irina Nevzlin, the daughter of Russian-Israeli billionaire Leonid Nevzlin, attacked Netanyahu in closed meetings and declared his intention to run against him in the primaries. Among other things, Edelstein said that the publicity about his move only benefited him: “I was sure they would attack me, but I was surprised to discover that wherever I went, people say it’s time to replace Netanyahu.”
The Likud chairman’s associates responded that “anyone who wants to run is invited – even tomorrow morning,” but no one doubts that there’s blood in the Likud water and the sharks are smelling it.
Edelstein, for one, is eager to hold the primaries in the coming months and challenge Netanyahu. “I don’t want to schlep it out much,” he said in one of those closed meetings that were reported by Kan 11 News. “I don’t intend to be number two on the list. I plan to win,” he said.
Strategically, all of Netanyahu’s enemies from within the party should push for primaries while the new government is still relatively strong because as soon as it starts to falter, it would be tougher to face Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Edelstein is putting the blame for Likud’s exile from power on the boss:
“He made all the possible mistakes,” Edelstein said about Netanyahu. “Why did he offer Gideon, Bennett, Gantz, and everyone else the post of prime minister but wouldn’t give it to anyone from the Likud? Why should the Likud lose power?”
Edelstein is not wrong. Throughout the months that followed the last election, the missing components of a strong, right-wing coalition, Bennett’s Yamina and Sa’ar’s New Hope, 13 votes altogether, declared they would happily come home, but Gideon Sa’ar conditioned it on Netanyahu’s resignation. His main promise to his voters had been to unseat Netanyahu – there was no way he would have agreed to serve under him.
According to Edelstein, and anyone else who followed Israeli politics over the past few months, had Netanyahu possessed the generosity of heart to offer his seat to someone else in Likud, you wouldn’t have had today’s bizarre coalition of enemies in charge.
Edelstein is optimistic about the direction of public opinion regarding Netanyahu and said, reportedly, that “in a week or two, people will turn on the TV and notice that he (Netanyahu) is not the prime minister, at which point the dime will drop and they’ll start telling him the truth in his face.”
And so, even as Likud is making an effort to derail the Lapid-Bennett government wherever and whenever they can, the country’s largest party is experiencing its own first signs of derailment.