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Elections 2021Ehud Barak said weighing bid for Labor Party leadership

New Hope’s Sa’ar: If I win, Likud can join me but Netanyahu can’t be a minister

Says indictment against PM prevents him from being in the cabinet; Lapid says would join Sa’ar coalition, but would also form government with Joint List support

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in the city of Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. In the background is a poster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in the city of Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. In the background is a poster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar said Saturday that his former party, Likud, could be “a partner” in the government he hopes to form after the upcoming election, but that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to serve as a minister in it.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, Sa’ar said that his previous vow not to allow Netanyahu to continue as prime minister did not rule out cooperation with Likud.

“Likud can be a partner. I’m not disqualifying Likud,” Sa’ar said. He insisted, however, that “Netanyahu cannot serve as a minister” due to the criminal indictment against him.

“There is case law that a person against whom an indictment has been filed cannot serve as a minister,” he said, citing the 1993 Supreme Court ruling that then-interior minister Aryeh Deri must resign due to corruption charges he was facing at the time. (Separately, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced earlier this month that he intends to file fresh criminal charges for tax offenses against Deri, who was reappointed interior minister in 2016.)

Sa’ar has previously vowed not to enter a government headed by Netanyahu, and also said that he would not agree to join a power-sharing government with him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Minister of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa’ar, in the Knesset, July 9, 2013. (Flash 90)

A long-time Likud member, Sa’ar defected from the ruling party last month, saying that he had lost faith in a prime minister whom he accused of increasingly placing his personal interests ahead of those of the country. Several Likud lawmakers joined Sa’ar in forming the New Hope party, which is emerging as Likud’s most potent challenger, polling at around 18 seats, while Likud has been polling at roughly 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party leads the center-left bloc, polling at around 14 seats, said Saturday night that he would be willing to join a government with Sa’ar, even as a junior partner.

“I have carried out two big political moves with Gideon in recent years. One is the election of Rivlin [as president] and the other is bringing down the government [last month]. These are two things we have engineered together, so we know how to work together,” Lapid said.

“I work well with Gideon Saar and I could join a government headed by him,” he added.

Responding to a request to comment on Lapid’s willingness to joining a Sa’ar led government, New Hope would not rule out Yesh Atid as a potential coalition partner.

A spokesperson for the party said that Sa’ar “has made clear that the priority for Israel today is to create stability and unity, and that New Hope would consider including in the coalition any party committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and to the direction he believes the country must go in the coming years.”

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Yair Lapid at a protest self-employed Israelis calling for financial support from the government, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Referring to the chances that he could form a government himself, Lapid said he believed Yesh Atid could enlist support from across the political spectrum, including from the Joint List party, which he saw as a potential partner.

“I would be willing to form a government with the support of the Joint List, I have said this before and it is a pity we have not done so already,” Lapid said, referring to thwarted attempts after the most recent elections to form a government supported by the predominantly Arab party.

Lapid, speaking with Channel 12, was cooler, however, on the prospect of rejoining up with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, which split from Yesh Atid to join the government after the last election.

“The last time I spoke with Benny Gantz was before he formed the government with Netanyahu in May. It is impossible to trust someone who is still sitting in the Netanyahu government.”

Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz speak to supporters in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Lapid has castigated Gantz relentlessly for joining the now-collapsed Netanyahu coalition, accusing him of stealing the votes that gave the Blue and White alliance 35 seats in the March 2020 elections and handing them to Netanyahu in breach of the core Blue and White commitment not to serve in government with a prime minister on trial for corruption.

Meanwhile, Ra’am chair MK Mansour Abbas was reported Saturday night to have decided to pull his faction from the Joint List and run as separate slate in March.

Abbas has recently drawn criticism from his fellow Joint List lawmakers for cooperating with Likud and signaling that he would even join the party in a coalition. While Netanyahu has intensified efforts to court the Arab vote, his Likud party said last week that the premier had no intention of forming a government with Arab-majority parties after the March elections.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak during amedia interview in Tel Aviv, September 30, 2019. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Additionally, Channel 13 reported Saturday night that former prime minister Ehud Barak was considering running in the leadership primary for the Labor party, which he used to chair.

Barak sat out the last Labor party primaries a year and a half ago, and instead formed his own faction, the Israel Democratic party. It ran with the Meretz party and did not make it into the Knesset in the September 2019 elections.

But with Labor now polling below the electoral threshold and with internal party primaries now set following a court ruling last week, Barak reportedly sees an opportunity to save the once-venerable party from political extinction.

There are currently two candidates for the Labor party leadership — MK Merav Michaeli and attorney Gil Beilin. Party No. 2 Itzik Shmuli, the current welfare minister, will decide on his candidacy in the coming days, Walla news reported.

Elections were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. They are set to take place on March 23, 2021.

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