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Netanyahu said willing to let Sa’ar be PM first in latest rotation deal proposal

Likud officials reportedly believe New Hope chair may agree to arrangement since he has only promised not to sit ‘under’ the incumbent premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud candidate Gideon Sa'ar as he arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud candidate Gideon Sa'ar as he arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, running out of time to form a coalition, is reportedly willing to offer former ally Gideon Sa’ar a rotation deal with the current New Hope leader to serve first as prime minister, Hebrew media reported Monday.

Similar deals, which would see Netanyahu continue to live at the prime minister’s official residence while he waits to take over as prime minister, have reportedly been presented to both Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

The reported offers come with eight days remaining for Netanyahu to try and form a government before he is required to return the mandate to do so to President Rivlin. If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, Rivlin may task one of the leaders of parties that have vowed not to sit in a government with the incumbent prime minister with doing so.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu’s Likud believes that the only way to prevent the “change bloc” from forming a coalition is to offer Sa’ar, whose New Hope party won just six seats in the March 23rd election, the opportunity to immediately serve as prime minister.

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.

According to Channel 12, however, Likud officials believe Sa’ar may agree to a rotation deal since he has only promised not to sit “under” Netanyahu and not “alongside” him.

The network further speculated that Yamina chair Bennett, who has not ruled out sitting with Netanyahu, would be forced to agree to join a Sa’ar-Netanyahu-led coalition, due to his promise not to torpedo a right-wing government if it can be formed.

Yamina chair Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Channel 13 news, Sa’ar has not ruled out the possibility and a political pundit for the channel said the option was “certainly living and breathing.” Sa’ar refused to answer a question on the proposed deal at his New Hope party’s Knesset faction meeting earlier Monday.

Hebrew media reports in recent days have suggested that the various rival party leaders being wooed by Netanyahu to rotate the premiership with him, even when going first, are worried that Netanyahu might backtrack at the eleventh hour and push through a Knesset vote for new elections, thus dooming anyone else’s prospect of forming a government.

Speaking at their faction meetings, Sa’ar and Bennett both said that they would prefer that a right-wing government be formed, even in the coming eight days before Netanyahu must return the mandate. However, while Bennett said he would be thrilled if Netanyahu managed to cobble together a coalition, Sa’ar maintained his position that he would not serve under the Likud leader and that the premier would have to step aside.

At the same time, both expressed caution over ongoing negotiations to form a unity government to replace Netanyahu, admitting that significant gaps remained between them and the centrist Yesh Atid party, whose leader insisted that they are still bridgeable.

“There are gaps, it will not be easy,” Bennett said in his prepared remarks before the media at the opening of Yamina’s faction meeting.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It requires a lot of moderation and restraint from all sides. We insist that the government reflect the will of the people and the composition of the Knesset,” he added, referring to the parliamentary makeup of roughly 60 percent right-wing lawmakers from Likud (30), Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Yamina (7), Religious Zionism (6) and New Hope (6). Bennett has pushed in negotiations with Lapid, who leads the bloc of parties seeking to oust Netanyahu, that the right have a majority in the cabinet, even if the government consists of a larger number of left-wing and centrist lawmakers.

Bennett appeared to be coordinating his message with Sa’ar, who said, “There are difficulties in forming a unity government. I can’t say if a government like this will be formed, but it is important to pursue this effort until the end. We have an obligation to do everything to prevent fifth elections.”

Addressing reporters shortly after Bennett and Sa’ar, Lapid acknowledged that gaps exist in their unity talks, “but we all agree that we need a full-time functioning government.”

Insisting that a fifth election in two years would be catastrophic for the Israeli economy, Lapid said that it would be possible to reach an agreement to form a unity government within a week or 10 days. “We, for our part, will do everything,” he said.

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