Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu secured a victory at the Likud Central Committee on Tuesday evening, as members of the committee voted to approve his proposal to hold early primaries for the party’s leadership.
The vote on the identity of the Likud leader is scheduled for February 23, 2016.
Netanyahu was seeking to move up the primaries, with speculations rampant that his reasoning was to attempt to stop former minister Gideon Sa’ar from running against him for the Likud leadership.
Sa’ar, who last year unexpectedly announced he was leaving politics, continues to enjoy popularity among members of the Likud. In fact, a recent poll indicated that Sa'ar is the only politician in Israel who could really pose a threat to Netanyahu's leadership.
Sa’ar considered contending for the leadership of the Likud party before the last election, but ultimately announced he would not do so. He has, however, hinted of possible plans to return to politics.
In Tuesday’s vote, the members of the Likud Central Committee also voted on the identity of the new chairman of the Central Committee, to replace former Minister Danny Danon who recently stepped down from the Knesset in order to become Israel’s Ambassador to the UN.
The winner in that vote is Welfare Minister Haim Katz, who defeated coalition chairman MK Tzahi Hanegbi and MKs David Amsalem and Yaron Mazuz.
Katz has been serving in the Knesset since 1999 and for the past six years has chaired the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. He has mainly focused on legislation in the fields of welfare, health, and the rights of workers and pensioners.
Katz won the support of several prominent Likud ministers and MKs in his bid to chair the Central Committe, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, as well as ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Yisrael Katz, Miri Regev, Ze’ev Elkin, Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis, and MKs Yoav Kish and Mickey Zohar.
Netanyahu phoned Katz and congratulated him on his victory on Tuesday night.
"We will work together in cooperation for the sake of a strong and united Likud and will continue to lead Israel in our own way - the Likud way," Netanyahu said.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who heads the Likud Secretariat, congratulated Haim Katz as well.
"Congratulations to my friend Haim Katz for being elected as chairman of the Central Committee. Netanyahu won. Haim Katz won. The Likud won. Together we will march the Likud to victory," he said.