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The Benjamin Netanyahu era is over, sources in Likud say

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While the Likud’s ministers and Knesset members (MKs) are projecting a united front in support of party leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a growing number of them believe that his days at the party’s helm are numbered, sources in the party said to the Jerusalem Post.

In addition to the catastrophic events of October 7 and a growing sense amongst the party’s base that the prime minister will not deliver on his promise to destroy Hamas and return all hostages, MKs have noted the party’s poor performance in most polls – between 16 and 18 seats, compared to its current 32.

If the Likud will no longer be the ruling party in a future election, nearly all of its current 18 ministers (not including Netanyahu) will be relegated to serve as opposition MKs – and most of its current MKs will be out of a job. Therefore, behind the scenes MKs have begun to gravitate toward possible successors, including Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and others, according to two sources, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.

In fact, the plurality of potential successors is partly responsible for the fact that Netanyahu is still prime minister. Knesset protocol enables a procedure called a “constructive no-confidence vote,” where, instead of dispersing itself and heading to an election, a majority of the Knesset’s 120 members vote to institute a new government. National Unity and opposition parties Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu would presumably support such a move – but their combined 42 seats would require at least 19 MKs from the Likud. The plurality of successors in the Likud and the failure to rally behind a single candidate mean that the votes don’t add up. Even if one of the potential successors managed to create a significant following within the party, 19 MKs is still unrealistically high, a source explained.

That leaves an election, which requires 61 MKs to vote in favor of the Knesset dispersing. The opposition currently numbers 56, and therefore it would be necessary for five MKs from the Likud to vote to topple the government, a more realistic number. Potential candidates are ministers Gallant, Edelstein, and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, as well as MKs David Bitan, Eli Dallal, Galit Distal-Atbaryan, possibly Tally Gotliv, and others.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a plenum session for Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 25, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Rather than crowning a successor from the Likud, however, such a move essentially brings down a Likud-led government – and therefore could be a step too far for the Likud’s base. This leads to a Catch-22 situation, whereby the five who vote to topple the government may no longer be welcome in the Likud – and may even join National Unity leader Benny Gantz in the next election.

Why has no one challenged Netanyahu?

In addition, no one in the Likud wants to be the first to challenge Netanyahu publicly during wartime, a source said, and therefore the timing of any political move, as well as a possible way out of the Catch-22, depends on two factors – Gantz, and protestors.

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Gantz has said that his party will remain in the government only as long as it feels it is relevant in the war’s decision-making processes. The central decision shortly is whether or not to open another front on the Northern border – and Gantz wants to be part of that decision. However, should a northern front be avoided or Gantz decide that he is no longer relevant, his leaving the government would likely serve as a gong to signal that the political fight is on. That, coupled with an expected wave of mass protests, could be enough for five Likud MKs to move against Netanyahu – perhaps without having to give up their seats.

Another scenario, a source said, is that Netanyahu himself precedes the wave of protests by calling for an election himself – thereby avoiding the momentum that such a wave could create for his rivals.

In any case, several sources said they believed that a political eruption is closer to the surface than it seems, with one even estimating that it would happen in between two weeks to two months.

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