While the Likud Party’s Gideon Sa’ar had threatened to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in a potential primary, an “open vote” held on Thursday confirmed the incumbent’s position as party leader.
On Thursday, the Likud Party voted to officially reaffirm its support for Benjamin Netanyahu as its leader and candidate to serve as prime minister.
The Likud Central Committee vote drew a relatively small percentage of the party’s approximately 3,800 registered members, reported Times of Israel, with Netanyahu absent from the proceedings.
The caucus represented a shift away from a proposed leadership primary, which Netanyahu suggested last week, but shelved after rival Gideon Sa’ar communicated his intention to challenge the incumbent head on.
In lieu of a full-scale primary, the committee officially signed off on a declaration that Netanyahu is Likud’s only candidate for prime minister, and that the party will only sanction a government that he leads, either on his own or as part of a rotation agreement with another party head.
“The proposal was approved in an open vote with a decisive majority of votes,” Likud announced in a statement quoted by the Times.
Last week Sa’ar commented on Twitter, “No one is denying the prime minister’s role as chairman of the Likud. When there is a race for leadership of the party — as the prime minister himself initiated a few days ago — I will run.”
Previously, Saar served as Cabinet secretary during Netanyahu’s first term in office.
Saar then established himself as a staunch nationalist who opposed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and resisted the prospect of a Palestinian state. He quickly rose in the Likud ranks, twice finishing first in internal elections for its parliamentary list and enjoying successful stints as education minister and interior minister after Netanyahu returned to power in 2009.
Saar abruptly quit politics in 2014 to spend more time with his new wife, Israeli TV anchor Geula Even, and their young children.
He made his comeback this year, chosen by Likud members for a senior position on the party’s list of candidates in parliamentary elections. While campaigning hard for Likud, Saar has been its only top official to occasionally defy Netanyahu — resisting calls to legislate immunity for the prime minister and attending a media conference Netanyahu had called to boycott.