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Joining Bennett, Sa’ar says Lapid won’t be prime minister

Both right-wing party leaders say centrist Yesh Atid can still join potential coalition

Gideon Sa'ar, head of the New Hope party makes a statement at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Gideon Sa'ar, head of the New Hope party makes a statement at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar said Wednesday there would not be a government led by centrist Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid, hours after Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett said he’d never serve under Lapid.

“The camp on the left is a small camp in the public and in the Knesset. Most people are right of center, so it’s not possible to have a government headed by Lapid. It’s just not possible politically. Everyone who understands the political system knows this,” Sa’ar said during a tour of communities in the south.

“It’s just Netanyahu in his campaign videos creating an imaginary contest between himself and Lapid. Netanyahu knows the real contest is between him and myself,” Sa’ar said. His party is the third most popular right-wing party, after Netanyahu’s Likud and Lapid’s Yesh Atid, according to recent polling.

Like Bennett, he did not rule out sitting in a coalition with Lapid.

“Lapid can be a partner in a government led by me. There’s no chance Lapid will be prime minister. I have said it before, it’s not new, and today it’s very clear, after what Bennett said, that there is no such practical possibility,” Sa’ar said, according to the Ynet news site. “There are two options — another Netanyahu government or a change in government led by me.”

Bennett said earlier Wednesday that he will not sit in any future government headed by a left-wing party, including Yesh Atid, but clarified that his party would agree to have Yesh Atid join a potential coalition as a partner.

“The time has come to replace Netanyahu, and it can only come from Yamina,” Bennett told the Kan public broadcaster. “Yamina will not sit in a government led by the left, including with Lapid as prime minister.”

“But we have no problem with Lapid joining the government,” Bennett said.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

When questioned about his tagging a left-wing label on Lapid, who has described himself as centrist, Bennett scoffed that Lapid could “call himself a kangaroo if he wants.”

“These elections are within the national camp and I intend to replace Netanyahu,” Bennett said. “Most of the people are right-wing — it cannot be that somebody from the left sits in the prime minister’s office.”

Bennett has campaigned aggressively against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic and has presented himself as a candidate for prime minister, although recent polling numbers give him less than half the number of seats Netanyahu’s Likud is predicted to win.

Lapid has not directly responded to Sa’ar or Bennett.

At a Likud party meeting on Wednesday, Netanyahu continued to cast the election as a contest between himself and Lapid.

“The choice in this election is who will be prime minister — myself or Lapid,” Netanyahu said, according to the Ynet news site.

Netanyahu on Wednesday mocked Bennett and Sa’ar, his right-wing rivals, claiming they would partner with the Yesh Atid and its leader Lapid after the election to form “a left-wing government.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends the Maariv Conference, in Tel Aviv on April 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“It’s the eve of Purim, and Bennett and Gideon keep wearing costumes. They say all day ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ You ask them about the weather and they say ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ They’ve got to deny it, but they have no way of forming a government without it being a left-wing government headed by Lapid,” Netanyahu said.

On Tuesday Netanyahu partly reestablished his bloc of right-wing, religious parties, which signed a loyalty pledge committing to support him as prime minister.

The move will further complicate efforts by Lapid and Sa’ar — the leaders of the likely second- and third-largest parties, respectively — to form a government.

If either performs well enough on election day and the right-wing bloc refuses to budge, they will be forced to look elsewhere for coalition partners, be it with Meretz, Labor or possibly the Joint List or Ra’am if the majority-Arab parties agree to offer support from the opposition.

If not, and the right-wing, religious bloc doesn’t cobble together at least 61 seats next month, the country could well be headed for a fifth election in under three years.

National elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s varied success battling the pandemic.

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