Despite his former steadfast refusal to enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form another government, Gideon Sa’ar, the head of the right-wing New Hope party, is reportedly weighing the option of a power-sharing coalition with the incumbent premier in which Sa’ar goes first as prime minister.
According to several Hebrew media reports Tuesday, Sa’ar has softened his objection to any political cooperation with Netanyahu since Yamina leader Naftali Bennett last week backed away from efforts to form a government that would replace the incumbent premier. A former Likud minister and now a bitter Netanyahu critic, Sa’ar, who campaigned for the March 23 elections with the assertion that ousting Netanyahu was the “prime imperative” for Israel, is now reported to be weighing a partnership with Netanyahu provided he can serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends on June 2. He and Bennett were on the verge of clinching a coalition deal with the support of the Islamist Ra’am party when the fight with Gaza broke out, leading Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas to back out and Bennett to later declare that the option was now off the table.
Sa’ar, whose New Hope won 6 seats in March, has hitherto rebuffed appeals to junk New Hope’s campaign pledge to not join in a government led by Netanyahu.
According to Channel 12 report, however, Likud officials believe Sa’ar may agree to a rotation deal since he has only promised not to serve “under” Netanyahu and not “alongside” him.
The network further speculated that Bennett would then also be compelled 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.
The negotiations between Sa’ar and Netanyahu are being mediated by Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich, Haaretz said.
Responding to that report, New Hope said “there are no negotiations taking place or any proposal on the table.”
Without mentioning Netanyahu by name, the party added that it had “clearly presented its positions since the election, time and time again, regarding the possibilities for its support in forming a government.”
Channel 13 said Tuesday afternoon that the contacts were initiated by Smotrich.
The reports of a possible Sa’ar flipflop came a day after claims that representatives of Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz were discussing a potential coalition partnership after the conflict with Gaza is over.
This claim was quickly denied by both sides, with officials in the so-called change bloc that aims to oust Netanyahu claiming the premier had leaked a false story in an attempt to sow discord among his opponents.
A Channel 12 report on the ostensible Netanyahu-Gantz contacts said that the proposal would see Gantz serve as premier first in a rotation deal for a period of 18 months, before handing over over the office to Netanyahu. Netanyahu would serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister for the first 18 months, and stay at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. (It was not clear how Netanyahu could serve as foreign minister. Under law, individuals under criminal indictment cannot serve as ministers — though that same rule does not apply to the job of prime minister.)
Netanyahu and Gantz formed a power-sharing government in May of last year, which was marred by constant infighting and dysfunction. It finally collapsed in December, prompting March 23’s inconclusive election. For the past week the two have been overseeing the Israel Defense Forces’ battle against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, reportedly working in close coordination on the handling of the conflict.
The Channel 12 report claimed that, unlike their previous government, the proposed one would not be a power-sharing one, since Gantz’s party won only eight seats in the recent election, compared to Likud’s 30. Blue and White would receive six ministries and the right to veto certain matters, the network said.
Netanyahu is interested in pursuing this option only if he cannot see a path to retaining power via a bid for a new direct election of the prime minister, the report said.
The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the report as untrue, and Blue and White sources told the network that Gantz would not partner with Netanyahu “even if he promises the moon.”
Meanwhile, Walla reported Monday that since Bennett appears to have burned his bridges with the change bloc, Netanyahu has significantly watered down his original offer to the right-wing party head.
In their previous round of talks, while Netanyahu still had the government-forming mandate, the prime minister’s party offered Bennett the chance to serve first as premier in a rotational agreement in addition to a merger proposal that would reserve eight spots on the Likud list for Yamina and a pledge to pass legislation instituting term limits for the premier post.
Netanyahu has now rescinded that proposal and is offering “far less,” Walla reported, without giving details of the new proposal.
If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.