Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected MK Gideon Sa’ar’s proposal to push for the premier’s appointment as president if Sa’ar wins Thursday’s Likud party leadership primary.
“Gideon Sa’ar’s spin unfortunately indicates that he has aligned with the left and the media to remove him from leading the country,” Netanyahu’s campaign headquarters said.
“This is not the time for division in Likud, but rather to unite around Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Sa’ar responded in a tweet, denouncing “baseless attacks by the Netanyahu campaign.”
Sa’ar, considered a serious underdog in the Likud leadership race, floated the idea of seeking to make Netanyahu president at an event Monday with supporters.
“If you give me the power on Thursday… and I am chosen as Likud chairman, I will seek for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be elected Israel’s next president in the elections set for a year and a half from now,” Sa’ar told supporters at a campaign rally.
In that role, he said, Netanyahu “will be able to continue contributing from his international [diplomacy] skills to Israel’s status in the world.”
President Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term as the Jewish state’s 10th president is set to end in July 2021. Israeli presidents are chosen by Knesset legislators and have historically been politicians.
Sa’ar went on to praise Netanyahu as “undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest statesmen.
“But we’ve found ourselves in a situation that is very painful to us all,” he said, in reference to the prime minister’s failure to form a government following two consecutive elections this year. “With the country in gridlock for a year, conclusions must be drawn.”
Sa’ar is seen as having little chance of beating Netanyahu in Thursday’s leadership primary, though he poses the greatest challenge to the premier from within his own party in years.
He has based his candidacy on Netanyahu’s failure in consecutive attempts to form a coalition following this year’s two elections in April and in September, and the fact that the prime minister faces corruption charges in three criminal cases.
The charges against Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, were a major bone of contention in unity talks between Likud and the rival Blue and White party following elections in September, which, like the previous elections in April, left both of the parties short of a majority together with their respective allies.
Given the circumstances, Sa’ar has painted himself as being far better poised to form a government following the upcoming March 2 election.
Tensions in the party have run high in recent days ahead of the leadership race, with supporters of Sa’ar claiming last week that thousands of potential Sa’ar voters had been purged from the party’s rolls ahead of the primary, a claim party officials have denied.
Sa’ar’s candidacy has been criticized by Netanyahu allies as disloyal and destabilizing to the party at a time when unity is required.