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Likud said to offer to back Sa’ar for president in bid to get Knesset majority

TV report says offer meant to lure other members of New Hope to join PM’s bloc as he struggles to form a government; Likud denies report, says no offer made

New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar at a party event in Moshav Azaria, April 4, 2021. (Flash90)
New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar at a party event in Moshav Azaria, April 4, 2021. (Flash90)

Likud officials have offered to back New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar for the soon-to-be-vacant position of president in the hopes of pulling lawmakers from Sa’ar’s right-wing party into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, Israeli television reported Monday.

Netanyahu is currently tasked with forming a government after receiving the most endorsements to be premier following the March 23 elections. He is short of a majority, however, and has no clear path to assembling a ruling coalition, nor does the bloc of parties opposed to his continued rule.

Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s appeals to junk New Hope’s campaign pledge to not join in a government led by the incumbent prime minister.

According to Channel 12 news, if Sa’ar were to accept the offer, the hope in Likud was that New Hope would break apart, with some of the party’s MKs moving back to Netanyahu. But Sa’ar rejected the offer.

Likud denied the report and said no such offer was ever made.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial post chosen by members of Knesset. Current President Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term expires in July.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Netanyahu lacking a majority, multiple — and mostly improbable — scenarios have been floated on how to reach the magic number of 61, including relying on outside support from the Islamist Ra’am party, despite opposition from far-right lawmakers; trying to recruit “defectors” from other parties; and trying to get New Hope party to join such a coalition.

Earlier Monday, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said his party supports the formation of a right-wing government with Likud, but stressed that averting a fifth round of elections in two years was his overarching goal.

Shortly after making the remarks during his party’s weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, Bennett met with Netanyahu for further coalition negotiations, which lasted some two hours. The two are set to meet again on Tuesday.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina, which won seven seats, has been negotiating with Likud over the creation of a government following last month’s inconclusive election, the fourth in two years. Even with its support, a coalition remains unlikely, as such a government would need the support of Ra’am, a prospect utterly rejected by Netanyahu’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party.

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government within 28 days, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has intimated that he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election.

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