New Hope party chief Gideon Sa’ar on Monday refused to rule out joining a government led by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, keeping the door open to a coalition to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that includes right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties.
Sa’ar’s remarks came after Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, another right-wing challenger to Netanyahu, pledged not to sit in a government headed — solely or via a power-sharing agreement — by Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party.
“I’m not limiting my options,” Sa’ar told Channel 12 news, when asked if he was willing to sign a power-sharing deal with Lapid or Bennett. “I’m not saying I’ll agree, but I don’t sign unnecessary pledges.”
Sa’ar said Bennett made a mistake by clarifying that he’s “in Netanyahu’s pocket.”
“But it’s Naftali Bennett’s right to make mistakes,” he said.
Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, was harder on Bennett earlier Monday, calling him a “wretched man” and a “fraud” in a radio interview.
Netanyahu’s Likud party took a shot at the premier’s right-wing rivals after Sa’ar’s comments to Channel 12.
“When Bennett and Gideon are collapsing in the polls, they begin to tell the truth: a vote for them will bring a government with Lapid, and fifth elections,” Likud wrote on Twitter.
Netanyahu was also asked in an interview about Bennett’s pledge not to sit in a Lapid-led government.
“Bennett didn’t say what I asked him to say: You won’t join a government with Lapid, meaning Lapid won’t be part of this government,” Netanyahu told Army Radio.
Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked confirmed the party had no issue partnering with Lapid, but opposed him being prime minister.
“The right has 80 seats, there is no reason to hand over power to the left,” she said in an interview with Radio 103FM.
Earlier, Lapid dismissed Bennett’s pledge not to join a coalition he leads, saying that if the anti-Netanyahu bloc receives a majority of seats in the election, “we will come out of it with a government.”
Lapid predicted Bennett would change his tune if Netanyahu and the parties that have pledged automatic support for the prime minister did not receive a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
“There is always a difference between television Bennett and the Bennett of conversations behind closed doors,” Lapid told the Kan public broadcaster.
Bennett’s vow not to sit under Lapid came after the last polls published before the election showed Likud gaining momentum, while Yamina and New Hope appeared to be losing support. Polls showed the centrist Yesh Atid as the second-largest party after Likud.
The move appeared to be an effort to counter the campaign message pushed by Netanyahu in recent days that a vote for Bennett or Sa’ar would in effect be a vote for Lapid as prime minister.
Bennett was previously part of Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties. Since being left out of the government Netanyahu formed last year with the Blue and White party, Bennett has become a vocal critic of the prime minister’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic but — unlike other rivals of the premier — has not ruled out joining a Likud-led government after the elections.