Benjamin Netanyahu with Gideon Sa'ar..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former No. 2, Gideon Sa’ar, announced his return to politics Monday night at a pre-Passover toast for Likud activists at the party’s branch in Acre, in which he praised the prime minister.
Sa’ar quit his post as interior minister in September 2014, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The move was seen as him leaving politics temporarily, because he could no longer work with Netanyahu.
But in the Likud, criticizing the leader of the party, especially when he is prime minister, is known to turn off activists and voters, so Sa’ar was careful. He congratulated Netanyahu for guiding Israel during the administration of former US president Barack Obama and wished him well handling Obama’s successor, Donald Trump.
“I want to praise Prime Minister Netanyahu for maintaining Israel’s interests during eight tough years,” Sa’ar said.
“But our problems are not behind us. There are still dangerous plans out there to pressure Israel to return to pre-1967 lines, and we must support the prime minister in standing up to that pressure.”
Sources close to Sa’ar said he does not believe elections are around the corner, but that he already wants to start meeting Likud members and other Israelis to ready himself politically. To that end, he announced a cross-country political tour in which he intends to announce new ideas on key issues.
“I took a break to be with the family and deal with other challenges,” Sa’ar said. “It was the best, most comfortable, most quiet time. But even good things have an end, and I came to tell you that my break has come to an end. I am returning to public and political work in our party, the Likud. My goal is to strengthen the Likud for the future and guarantee that it will also lead the country in the future.”
When Sa’ar referred to the future, activists who support him said they hope he meant the post-Netanyahu era, when Sa’ar wants to be elected to succeed him. Netanyahu has referred to Sa’ar as a “talkbacker,” and he was reportedly upset when Sa’ar’s wife, veteran journalist Geula Even, was named to anchor the nightly news on the forthcoming Public Broadcasting Corporation. Sa’ar’s associates said the timing of his announcement had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s move to prevent the corporation from being formed.
Unlike his fellow former Likud ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Moshe Kahlon, Sa’ar never left the Likud and always remained loyal to the party.
The Likud, however, already has chosen Netanyahu as its candidate in the next general election, so there will be no leadership race in which Sa’ar could challenge the prime minister.
A Jerusalem Post
poll published some two weeks ago indicated that the public was very much in favor of Sa’ar returning to politics and showed that participants in the poll saw Sa’ar as more fit to be prime minister than former IDF chiefs of staff Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi. Thirty nine percent said Sa’ar is fit and 43% said he is unfit, compared to Gantz, who was pronounced fit by 37% and unfit by 44% and Ashkenazi and Ya’alon, who were seen as fit by 30% and unfit by 53%.
In a speech in February, Sa’ar expressed hope that Netanyahu would emerge unscathed from the three criminal investigations that are threatening his political future.
“It pains me as an Israeli citizen to see what is happening,” Sa’ar said at the B’Sheva newspaper’s Jerusalem conference at the capital’s Crown Plaza Hotel. “I think it pains every Israeli citizen that a prime minister is being investigated, and it hurts me a little more, because I worked with Netanyahu.”