Senior Likud politicians are plotting to dismiss party leader Benjamin Netanyahu if his bloc fails to win a majority in the upcoming elections.
Top party members told the Times of Israel’s Hebrew site, Zman Yisrael, that Netanyahu would be offered almost full control of the party but keep him out of government, which would allow Likud to form a center-right coalition government with parties that are currently refusing to sit with the former prime minister.
According to the emerging plan, which is being drafted behind Netanyahu’s back, he would remain head of the Likud party and be a senior member of the next Knesset, but would not be part of an envisaged unity government that would be formed with Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar’s National Unity party and other potential partners.
In this scenario, Netanyahu would pick a Likud member to serve as prime minister in an agreed-upon rotation with Gantz.
Netanyahu has launched a vigorous election campaign, which has included meeting activists across the country, holding events and posting viral videos.
However, most recent polls still predict a political stalemate in the November 1 vote, prompting prominent Likud politicians to prepare for a scenario in which Netanyahu’s bloc fails to reach the 61 seat majority it needs to form a government.
Netanyahu’s bloc, made up of right-wing and religious parties, would reach 59 seats in the next Knesset, while the bloc of coalition parties led by Lapid would reach 57 seats in this scenario.
“Nobody wants a sixth election. Netanyahu doesn’t want to be seen as the reason for another round of elections,” a senior Likud Knesset member who supports the initiative told Zman Israel on condition of anonymity.
“We will reach an understanding that allows Netanyahu to serve as head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,” the official said.
“Netanyahu will also remain leader of the Likud party and will get to choose the ministers as if he’d won the elections. He will be able to continue with his ongoing trial. It’s none of our business.”
Netanyahu would be expected to reject such a move, having rejected similar plans in the past.
In September, he vowed to continue to lead his right-religious bloc should he fail to form a government.
The Likud MK said that those involved in the plan hope it would placate Netanyahu and Gantz, who has vowed not to sit again with Netanyahu after being denied his turn as prime minister in a 2020-2021 coalition between the parties.
“Netanyahu would monitor the ministers’ work from outside the government,” the MK concluded, “just like (Shas’s leader) Aryeh Deri did when he was not allowed to serve as a minister.”
“The question is whether Gantz and his friends will agree to follow suit and won’t fear being tricked by Netanyahu again,” the official noted.
“I think they might. What might convince them is that Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir won’t necessarily be part of this government,” the official said referring to the far-right Religious Zionism party.
The Likud source also conceded that there could be difficulty getting other Likud members to agree to a scenario that could see one of their rivals appointed prime minister.
“The only friction point will be about the identity of the alternate prime minister. Yariv Levin could be an acceptable candidate because he won the party’s primaries, but I’m not sure senior politicians like Nir Barkat or Israel Katz will let that happen, even if we’re only talking about a temporary role,” the official added.
According to the report, the initiative has already been opposed by some in Likud.
Barkat’s associates have demanded holding primaries for the Likud leadership in the event that Netanyahu doesn’t manage to reach 61 seats.
An unnamed political associate of Barkat told Zman Yisrael earlier this week that “the Likud leadership is not interested in sixth elections. It won’t happen. If Netanyahu doesn’t reach a majority, we will demand new primaries. This isn’t a monarchy in which he passes on the baton to his heir. In such primaries, Barkat will beat everyone by a huge margin.”
Asked what would happen if Netanyahu competes in such primaries and wins, the MK said: “Netanyahu will not compete in another round of Likud primaries if he fails to form a government.”
Another senior Likud figure told Zman Yisrael on Thursday that Levin (Likud), Zeev Elkin (National Unity), and Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) have recently met to discuss the initiative and the different potential scenarios. All three lawmakers denied holding such a meeting.