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Netanyahu wins landslide victory in Likud primary

The Likud party announced today that incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a landslide victory in internal primary elections, which secured his leadership of the right-wing party in the national elections 2 March 2020.

The official results show that Netanyahu won 72.5% of the party members’ votes. His greatest rival Gideon Sa’ar trailed with just 27.5%.

Netanyahu claimed victory just before midnight Thursday (December 26), writing on Twitter: “Great victory!” He proclaimed, “With God’s and your help, I will lead the Likud to a great victory in the upcoming election and we will continue to lead Israel to unprecedented achievements.”

Sa’ar issued a statement congratulated Netanyahu on the outcome. He also expressed his commitment to support both the party and the 70-year-old leader, who is the longest-serving Israeli Premier in state history, in the upcoming national elections.

The veteran Knesset Member and former Education Minister was widely seen as posing the hardest challenge yet to Netanyahu’s decades-long chairmanship of the Likud. Displaying no sign of regret, Sa’ar later tweeted, “”I am absolutely comfortable with my decision to run. Whoever isn’t ready to take a risk for the path he believes in will never win.”

Even though he handily overcame the latest political battle, the road ahead for Netanyahu is lined with additional obstacles. The Israeli leader is facing criminal indictments in three separate corruption scandals in which he is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing and rejects the charges as “a witch-hunt.”

Netanyahu’s greatest competitor in the March elections is Benny Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and head of the Blue and White political party formed exactly one year ago. During coalition negotiations following both the previous April and September 2019 elections, Gantz said he would refuse to join a national unity government with a leader facing criminal indictment.

In a statement to TV7 from the Blue and White party, Gantz reacted to the Likud primary results with dismay, saying “Citizens of Israel, it appears that the defendant Netanyahu, who is leading the State of Israel down a path of corruption, will continue to lead Likud.” In reference to Likud’s founders, he added, “[Ze’ev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin’s movement, which spoke of the supremacy of law, has elected a leader facing three indictments, who is seeking to unravel the rule of law and secure personal immunity, rather than address the actual concerns of the Israeli people.” He then called for the placement of a “mirror in front of ‘the Netanyahu party,’” and called on the nation’s voters to “make the choice for unity, dignity, and internal reconciliation” during the upcoming elections. “The State of Israel must set out on a new course,” Gantz said, underscoring, “To make that happen, Blue and White must achieve a decisive outcome that will extricate us from both political deadlock and a path of corruption.”

The Likud primary results ensure that Netanyahu will remain at the helm of Israel’s caretaker government until the unprecedented third round of parliamentary elections in less than one year. After having twice failed to form a ruling coalition during either of the previous two rounds of balloting, Netanyahu’s next major battle will be to resolve the severe political impasse that has essentially paralyzed Israel’s political system since 2018.