Former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar announced Thursday that he would not run on the Likud’s internal ballot, dispelling rumors that he was planning to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party’s leadership.
Sa’ar quit politics in November in a surprise move. His decision to refrain from a bid for the Likud leadership comes after the party’s central committee voted Wednesday in favor of a proposal by Netanyahu to set an early date for the party’s primaries, moving them from January 6 to December 31. The move gives potential challenges less time to organize.
“In recent days I received many touching calls from friends and citizens who urged me to end the timeout I announced about three months ago and run for the Likud leadership,” Sa’ar wrote in a Facebook post.
“I listened to all of you, I learned a lot, and discussed and considered the matter with all the seriousness and discretion required in light of the responsibilities of such a decision. And while I had a different opinion, I respect the decision of the Likud Central Committee last night to accept the proposal of the prime minister and the leadership of the party to move the date of the already-set primaries for the Likud leadership.
“Under the circumstances, and having considered the matter carefully, I decided not to run for the Likud leadership at this time,” Sa’ar concluded.
On Wednesday, Likud members voted in favor of Netanyahu’s proposal to see the ballot on the party’s leadership changed from January 6 to December 31 — a shift widely seen as an effort to complicate Sa’ar’s possible return. The prime minister made the proposal after new elections were called last week for March 17, 2015.
Sa’ar was a rising star within the Likud until he left his post as interior minister. A former education minister, he is regarded as more hawkish than Netanyahu and is considered to be emblematic of the party’s younger conservative bloc. When he left the government in November, he said he wanted to spend time with his family, having recently remarried, and that his relationship with the prime minister was not as good as it had once been.
It was widely presumed that he would eventually return to politics in order to vie for the party’s leadership, but the rapid collapse of the coalition, after just 20 months, may have come to soon for him.
MK Danny Danon, the Likud Central Committee chairman who is also running in the leadership race, hinted last month that former Likud ministers Sa’ar and Moshe Kahlon, who is making a comeback at the head of a new party, had both resigned because of Netanyahu.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.