Gideon Sa’ar says he won’t agree to power-sharing coalition with Netanyahu

New Hope party leader says partnership with left-wing Meretz ‘unlikely’ after March elections

A composite image shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Gideon Sa'ar, right. (Flash90)
A composite image shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Gideon Sa'ar, right. (Flash90)

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday that he would not agree to join a power-sharing government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party he recently left to form his new faction.

Sa’ar, a longtime internal rival of the premier, has previously vowed not to enter a government headed by Netanyahu.

“I also won’t agree to a rotation [agreement] with Netanyahu,” he told Channel 12.

Netanyahu has widely been accused of intentionally violating a power-sharing agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz by promising him the premiership after 1.5 years without any intention of keeping the promise. Support for Gantz and his Blue and White party has plummeted since he agreed to the deal with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s treatment of Gantz makes it unlikely that any other rivals will enter into a similar arrangement following the next election.

Sa’ar also said he views the chances of him forming a coalition together with the left-wing Meretz party as “unlikely,” highlighting obstacles faced by parties that oppose Netanyahu in bridging their differences to form a majority coalition.

Sa’ar is shaping up to be Netanyahu’s most potent challenger in the upcoming elections, polling at around 18 seats, while Likud has been polling at roughly 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

New Hope has been boosted by four defections from the Likud party, including popular lawmaker Yifat Shasha-Biton and former Netanyahu confidant Ze’ev Elkin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits with then-minister Ze’ev Elkin, during a special cabinet meeting for Jerusalem Day at the Ein Lavan spring in Jerusalem, June 2, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Elkin and Shasha-Biton also vowed to not join a coalition with the premier following elections.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse, due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Gantz violated repeated campaign promises by joining Netanyahu in the coalition. Gantz said at the time that Israel needed a functioning government during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic strife, instead of an immediate fourth election, after the previous three votes ended in gridlock with no one able to form a governing coalition.

Following Blue and White’s collapse, the upcoming election will be largely contested among right-wing parties, with Netanyahu, Sa’ar, Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman all vying for the premiership. All of the challengers are former partners of Netanyahu who became staunch opponents to his rule.

Despite enjoying a lead in recent polling, Netanyahu’s Likud and his two ultra-Orthodox party allies lack a clear path to forming the next coalition, due to the animosity from the other right-wing parties.

By contrast, various arrays of anti-Netanyahu parties — New Hope, Yamina, Yesh Atid, The Israelis, Yisrael Bytenu, Meretz, and Blue and White — could muster a majority between them. Since they range across the political spectrum from right to left, however, it is not clear that they would agree to sit in government together.

A recent poll by Channel 12 showed Netanyahu to be Israelis’ preferred choice for prime minister. But Sa’ar was close behind, with 34% for Netanyahu and 32% for the New Hope party leader.

Elections were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. They are set to take place on March 23, 2021.

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