Last night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laughed again for the first time this year. He won the election to chair his Likud party with 72.5 percent of the vote versus 27.5 percent for challenger Gideon Saar. However, it was a serious vote - strictly speaking, the first serious vote since Netanyahu took over the leadership of the Likud in 2005.

This area code had become necessary because Netanyahu was unable to win two Knesset elections in April and September 2019 and therefore had twice failed to form a government. Israel will vote for the third time in March 2020, until then Netanyahud will serve as an interim premier with limited power for almost a year.

Netanyahu's victory within his party shows that right-wing Likud has continued to thrive on "Bibi", the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history. A prime minister, on three charges of corruption. And whether the loyalty of the party members will last until election day remains to be seen.

Israeli law stipulates that an incumbent premier, even on charges, only has to resign if he is finally sentenced. However, another law says that a politician who is charged cannot take official office. Both laws have never had to be "tested" in practice. This is the case for the first time in the country's history.

Israel's Supreme Court is currently facing several petitions that require that Netanyahu should not legally take over the premier's office, even if he wins the election in three months. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has filed the charges against Netanjahu, will have to give his legal opinion on the court by Sunday. The Supreme Court will announce its final verdict in the next few weeks, so the current campaign is overshadowed by this legal interpretation.

Israel - Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed as Likud leader before general election Israel's Prime Minister has won the election for the Likud party leadership. He is also the party's top candidate in the general election in early March. © Photo: Ariel Schalit

He faces a prison sentence of several years

The blue-and-white party, which is currently just ahead of the Likud in the polls, has clearly positioned itself for a long time. During the coalition negotiations after the September election, party leader Benny Gantz had made it clear that one would not form a government with an accused criminal. Gideon Saar, Netanyahu's opponent in his own party, led his campaign for the Likud presidency on the grounds that with Netanyahuan the top of the Likud will not be able to form a government after the third parliamentary election within a year.

But Bibi is fighting. Because he faces a sentence of several years if convicted. And the now seventy-year-old premier, who sees himself as a savior and protector of the Jewish state in a historical role, does not want to go to jail. To avoid this, the prime minister intended to pass an immunity law this year. Yes, even more: Netanyahu and his right-wing allies wanted to pass a law that in the future should give the Supreme Court the opportunity to override or reject passed laws.