Israel’s Netanyahu wins overwhelming primary victory to remain head of Likud party

Benjamin Netanyahu rose above a personal and national crisis to win his party’s nomination in a landslide this week.

According to the Associated Press, the Trump-backed Israeli prime minister will continue leading the right-wing Likud party, as expected, after winning Thursday’s primary election against rival Gideon Saar. The lopsided win gives Netanyahu, who is facing criminal charges for bribery and corruption, a much-needed vote of confidence as Israel struggles with a government in limbo.

A win for Netanyahu

Israel has been mired in crisis after two previous elections in March and September left Israel without a fully functional government for the first time in its history. Adding to the crisis was Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption that included exchanging favors for positive press coverage, marking the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister was charged with crimes, Townhall reports.

But the crisis did not stop Netanyahu from staying in control; the Likud leader won 72% of the vote against Saar’s 28% on Thursday, consolidating his power in the party he has led since 1993. Netanyahu’s victory was expected, the Times of Israel reported.

“Huge victory!” the Israeli leader tweeted after his win, according to the BBC. “Thank you Likud members for the vote of confidence, support and love. God willing and with your help, I will lead the Likud to a great victory in the upcoming elections and will continue to lead the state of Israel to unprecedented achievements.”

Saar, on the other hand, soon conceded defeat, tweeting: “I am content with my decision to have stood. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed. My colleagues and I will stand behind [Netanyahu] in campaigning for the Likud’s success in the general elections.”

A continuing crisis

Likud and the opposing Blue and White party are expected to dominate in the next election in March, the third in less than a year to break the gridlock and form a new government, according to the AP. But the Blue and White party has refused to form a coalition government with a leader under indictment, making Netanyahu’s hold on the Likud party likely to prolong the crisis.

The next election will be a test of Netanyahu’s popularity, but it has more personal implications for the embattled leader as he faces legal troubles. Israeli prime ministers under indictment are not required to resign, and Netanyahu could use his power to seek immunity from prosecution from the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

“Only I can get this”

For his part, Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing while accusing his enemies of an “attempted coup” by the media and law enforcement, not unlike President Donald Trump, with whom he has forged a close relationship. Trump has bolstered America’s alliance with Israel by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli settlements, among other moves that critics have said undermines America’s position as an honest broker in the Israel–Palestine conflict.

Amid crisis, Netanyahu has played up his relationships with Trump and other world leaders to make the case that he is uniquely suited to protecting Israel from terrorism and Iran. He has also vowed to annex Palestinian territories, with Trump’s support, according to The Guardian.

“The same way I got Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, and the American statement that the settlements [don’t] contradict international law…I am going to do something more,” Netanyahu said before Thursday’s primary, according to Axios.

He went on: “I am going to bring U.S. recognition in our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and in all the settlements — this is the next stage — and only I can get this.”

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