Netanyahu won’t face Sa’ar leadership challenge; Shas facing split

Former-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar yesterday ended speculation that he would challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud Party leadership.

Sa’ar surprised the political world in September by announcing his resignation to devote more time to his personal life. The 47-year-old is a popular figure in Likud and had long been considered a potential party leader. Speculation had mounted that Sa’ar was considering challenging Netanyahu for the Likud leadership at an upcoming primary. A Channel Ten poll earlier this week indicated that Likud would win 20 Knesset seats with either Sa’ar or Netanyahu at the party’s helm.

On Wednesday though, the Likud Central Committee approved by a wide margin a proposal from Netanyahu to bring forward the leadership primary by a week to 31 December, a move widely interpreted as a tactic to complicate a potential Sa’ar leadership bid. The Central Committee’s vote strongly in favour of the proposal was considered a victory for Netanyahu and a possible indication that his position is secure.

In the wake of the vote, Sa’ar yesterday put an end to talk of a leadership challenge, saying “In recent days I’ve received numerous and very moving appeals from friends in the movement and from citizens beseeching me to return.” However, “after giving it much thought, I have decided not to run for the Likud leadership at this time.” MKs Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin are expected to run against Netanyahu, but neither is considered to have a realistic chance of victory.

Meanwhile, it is reported that ultra-Orthodox party Shas may split with party leader Aryeh Deri and former-leader Eli Yishai seemingly unable to mend a rift between them. Haaretz reports that the two will meet in a last-ditch attempt to resolve issues on Sunday, but that Yishai is expected to announce the launch of a rival ultra-Orthodox party. Yishai had led the party while Deri was banned following a prison term. However, Deri eventually resumed the leadership, effectively side-lining Yishai.

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