Former Likud lawmakers who left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party to join rival Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope pledged on Saturday their new right-wing list would not join a coalition with the premier following the elections.
Israel heads to its fourth national election in two years on March 23, after the government led by Netanyahu collapsed last week over a failure to pass a state budget.
Recent television polls have put Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties short of a majority, but also predicted that his rivals would have had a hard time building a viable coalition. Though Netanyahu lacked a clear path to forming a government, it’s unclear from the survey results if an alternative coalition could be assembled, with the parties opposing the Likud leader divided ideologically and over the question of who should be premier.
“We won’t join Netanyahu in any form [in a coalition], because his personal interests are guiding his decisions,” said Ze’ev Elkin, formerly a confidant of Netanyahu, in an interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press.”
“And that makes it [Netanyahu’s leadership] dangerous,” continued Elkin. “Netanyahu feels persecuted, he suspects everyone, the atmosphere is one of a cult of personality… of flattery. This is precisely what we want to change.”
Netanyahu is currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.
New Hope’s Yifat Shasha-Biton echoed the pledge, telling Channel 12: “We won’t join [a coalition] led by Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s not Netanyahu as an individual, the story is the way Netanyahu is leading the country… the State of Israel wants a change.”
Shasha-Biton also addressed her decision to leave Likud, stressing that she had been placed on the list as part of a merger between Netanyahu’s party and Moshe Kahlon’s now-defunct Kulanu party.
“It doesn’t suit me to be part of this bullying and low discourse,” she said. “This is precisely what we want to change.”
Elkin became the fourth Likud lawmaker to defect to Sa’ar’s fledgling party — after Shasha-Biton, MK Michal Shir, and MK Sharren Haskel — which current polls suggest would be the second-largest in the Knesset after the elections.
Elkin, a former cabinet minister, had been known to be close to Netanyahu, as his former coalition chief, his translator in dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a trusted confidant. Alongside current Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, he led Likud’s negotiations with Blue and White ahead of the formation of the current government.
Elkin delivered a dramatic indictment of the Israeli leader Wednesday as he announced his surprise decision to quit Likud and join forces with Sa’ar, the longtime Netanyahu nemesis who bolted Likud and resigned from the Knesset two weeks ago to form his own party. In his remarks, Elkin cited his lost faith in a prime minister he accused of increasingly placing his personal interests ahead of the country’s. He quit the Knesset on Thursday.