By Hamodia Staff
YERUSHALAYIM — As opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu considered his possible path back to power, one obstacle was conveniently removed from that path: Likud No. 2 Yuli Edelstein.
Edelstein, a former Knesset speaker and health minister, said Thursday that he had decided not to pursue his previously stated intention to challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership after all.
“Wherever I went, I always put the Likud movement first,” Edelstein said in a statement. “Now, as we face a critical election for the State of Israel, I cannot drag Likud into an internal struggle, and so I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for the party’s presidency in the coming elections.”
A month ago, as the Bennett-Lapid coalition began to disintegrate, a confident Edelstein called for a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership.
“If Netanyahu knows how to assemble a government in the current Knesset, I certainly won’t oppose him because I said the State of Israel doesn’t need elections. If not, hold a contest for party leadership,” Edelstein told Channel 12 news. “I don’t usually get into fights that I don’t think I can win,” for those who doubted his ability to oust him.
But now that Netanyahu failed to form a government before the Knesset dispersed early Thursday, Edelstein has evidently changed his mind.
Other Likud leaders were also reportedly thinking out loud about running for the party’s presidency, such as former Yerushalayim mayor Nir Barkat and former transportation minister Yisrael Katz. Neither has been heard from yet.
They too can refrain from challenging Netanyahu at this point. A Midgam poll released late Wednesday predicted 34 seats for a Netanyahu-led Likud if elections were held now, with a strong presence from religious parties. If Yamina, now led by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, joins them, the right-wing bloc would have a majority of 63 seats out of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
Nor have Edelstein and company forgotten what happened to Gideon Sa’ar, who was crushed by Netanyahu in a 2019 Likud primary, 72.5 percent to 27.5. Sa’ar then left Likud and launched the New Hope party, which became part of the now incumbent coalition, and won about 4 seats, just enough to return to the Knesset, if his support holds until the 1st. november.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement in response to Edelstein, saying, “I am sure we can work together, as we have done in the past, with all party members for a Likud victory, for a great victory for the State of Israel”.