Netanyahu Wins Likud Party's Primary, Setting Up Another Election Run
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be his party's leader when Israel holds a national election in March, after notching a landslide victory in the Likud Party primary Thursday. Netanyahu had faced a rare challenger in Likud's primary race, but he secured more than 70% of the vote.
"A huge win!" Netanyahu said via Twitter. He also promised to take Likud and Israel to great new achievements. Some of them hinge on new concessions from the U.S., where the Trump administration has broken with decades of precedents by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy to the city.
In a victory speech after Thursday's vote, Netanyahu promised more gains to his conservative base.
"We will set our final borders, bring about American recognition for Israeli control over Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and our sovereignty over every settlement in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu said, according to The Jerusalem Post. He added that his government will "obtain a defense pact with U.S. that will ensure Israeli freedom to act, we will defeat Iran and achieve a peace pact with Arab countries."
Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, will run for reelection despite problems that range from his own legal troubles to his party's failure to secure a majority in parliament in September's election.
The prime minister faces several criminal charges, helping to fuel recent gains by the rival Blue and White Party and its centrist leader, Benny Gantz. And those issues don't seem likely to fade away: Netanyahu was indicted on bribery and other charges last month.
Gantz issued a statement Friday calling for Israel to "set out on a new, clean path under Blue and White's leadership." The alternative, he said, is to "stay stuck in a place with a sitting prime minister facing three charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust, who is placing his own personal interest above the best interests of Israel's citizens."
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz was able to broker a ruling coalition after a very close vote in autumn. And with Israel in political gridlock, the country will hold its third election in the span of a year.
While those concerns didn't change the opinion of Likud voters who see Netanyahu as their best chance to regain control, there are also warning signs for the prime minister in Thursday's results.
"Netanyahu had a resounding victory with 72.5% of the votes," NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem. "But voter turnout in his party primaries was only about 50% — and more than a quarter of the voters didn't choose Netanyahu. That could mean Netanyahu will have a hard time getting enough right-wing voters to come to the polls to help him win national elections in March."