Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his chief rival within the Likud party, Gideon Sa’ar, on Monday, a day after the premier’s son accused Sa’ar of plotting to lead a breakaway group of MKs in bolting the party and joining a government led by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.
In a brief statement following the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Likud said the talks had “dealt with the political issue and the efforts to establish a national unity government and avert a dangerous minority government.”
Netanyahu has stepped up his rhetoric against the possibility of Gantz forming a minority government backed by Israel’s Arab-led Knesset factions, and has been accused for that of incitement, racism, and trying to spark a civil war.
Sa’ar is seen as the prime minister’s chief challenger for leadership of Likud, and is the only member of the ruling party who has declared that he will run against Netanyahu in the event that leadership primaries are called.
Sources close to Netanyahu have in the past repeatedly accused Sa’ar of seeking to orchestrate a “coup” against the prime minister.
Sa’ar on Saturday voiced rare criticism within Likud ranks of Israel’s reaction to rocket attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip, saying action against terrorists in the Gaza Strip “should be far more severe than that which was taken.”
On Sunday, the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, shared a tweet estimating that Sa’ar would leave Likud together with seven or eight MKs and join Gantz.
Sa’ar responded by tweeting that “absurd conspiracy libels are being peddled about me from Balfour,” referring to the street in which the Prime Minister’s Residence is located.
Yair Netanyahu also reportedly told police during his questioning in one of the corruption cases against the premier that Sa’ar had raped his own secretary and then bought her silence. An attorney for Sa’ar last month filed a request to access that part of the testimony, telling Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that the senior Likud lawmaker wanted to clear his name and that the rape accusation was “a fictitious false story about him that never happened,” Channel 12 news reported when the story broke.
In 2013, rumors swirled about Sa’ar having a romantic relationship with a subordinate and taking advantage of her through abuse of his position. This stemmed from a letter supposedly penned by the employee. However, the woman later denied writing it and said the claims were spurious. A police investigation into possible harassment by Sa’ar was closed.
The prime minister’s older son is known for his combative, blunt and unrestrained style. He is a vocal right-wing activist on social media, and has in the past defended his father and repeatedly ignited controversies with inflammatory statements online.