Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday evening that his Likud party will hold primaries to the leadership of the party in early December, amid pressure that has been mounting on the prime minister to step down and relinquish his post as the head of Israel's second-biggest party.
In Likud's ordinary primaries the 100 thousand activists of the party are expected to rank a list of current Likud parliamentarians that will represent the party in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in the event of elections. This time, however, and for the first time in five years, Likud members are asked to elect the movement's leader.
In Netanyahu we trust:
Netanyahu is hoping to win the vote that will cement his position in the ranks of the Likud and Ayub Kara, a former minister of communications from Likud, says Netanyahu's victory is guaranteed.
"He is a very strong leader with many people respecting him. There is no doubt that if anyone should be leading Likud, it must be him," he said over the phone.
Kara resigned from his ministerial position following his attempts to participate in a reality show on Israeli TV, a move that sparked a barrage of criticism, including from within his own party, landing him a bottom seat in the Likud list, with almost zero chances to enter a government.
"My relations with the Prime Minister haven't been great lately," said Kara, "but I cannot sit idly by watching the injustice being done to him," he said, referring to the decision of Israel's attorney general Avichai Mandelblitt to indict Netanyahu in a series of graft probes, following allegations that he bought positive press with favours and accepted illegal gifts from rich donors.
The former minister believes that the media, dominated by circles close to the left, is doing everything it can to oust Netanyahu. "They realised that they cannot get rid of him politically as he has huge support among the Israeli public, so they found another way, coming up with different tales about corruption. This is an impeachment attempt and we won't accept it," he said, adding that the media has done similar things to other prime ministers, including Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and Itzkhak Shamir.
Zero chances to defeat Netanyahu:
But as tensions keep brewing, with Netanyahu miring deeper into his legal battles, the number of voices - including from within Likud - calling him to step aside has been on the rise. On Saturday, one of the Likud's leading figures, Gideon Saar, considered a Netanyahu rival, went live on Israeli TV urging the prime minister to hold snap primaries and suggesting he would go head-to-head with Netanyahu in the upcoming vote.
But Kara believes Saar has zero chance of success. "Saar is alone. The Likud stands united behind Netanyahu and he is the only person who will be heading the party. There are forces outside of the Likud, who want to split us and they push Saar to act the way he does but their chances to cause a rift are slim," said the former parliamentarian.
Saar's interview sparked an uproar, with some Likud members venting anger at the parliamentarian for attacking Netanyahu during a sensitive period in Israel's history.
"If Saar thinks he can replace Netanyahu, he should wait for the primaries and let people decide who will be leading them. But I am sure, Netanyahu will win that battle," said Kara, adding that Netanyahu can also win in the country's general elections, if Israel ends up going to the polls in March 2020.
"If elections are to take place, the Likud has high chances of winning, partially because of the ground work we have done and partially because people who voted for other parties - including that of Benny Gantz - in the previous round of the general vote, got disillusioned with what they got and will now be voting Likud," said former minister.
But recent polls suggest otherwise. A November survey conducted by Israel's Channel 13 showed that some 56 percent believed Netanyahu should not be running the country under indictment, with only 35 percent of respondents saying he should keep his post. Another poll, conducted by one of Israel's leading newspapers, Israel Hayom, considered supportive of Netanyahu - revealed that had the elections taken place today, the Likud would only get 33 out of 120 seats in parliament. Although this is an increase of one seat over the previous round, it is still one seat lower than the rival Blue and White party, which would get 34 seats, according to the same poll.
But Kara is optimistic. "We will overcome this difficulty. What we need to do now is to stand by the prime minister and help him go through this difficult period of time," he summed up.
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