Netanyahu quashes ‘coup’ to unseat him

Sa’ar ready to challenge Netanyahu for Likud leadership

Gideon Sa'ar (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Gideon Sa'ar (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dashed the hopes of Blue and White on Thursday that an alternative Likud leader could form a national unity government with them, and end his political career.
Blue and White said repeatedly throughout the election campaign that it wants to build a coalition with Likud after Netanyahu’s departure. There was speculation that if Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing did not go well, a government could be formed by a new leader in Likud, together with Blue and White.
But Netanyahu took steps on Thursday to ensure that he would be the only potential Likud leader who could form a government during the key three-week period when any MK may obtain the support of 61 MKs to build a coalition, after both he and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz fail to do so.
Netanyahu’s associates expressed satisfaction that what they saw as a “coup” had been averted.
On Wednesday, Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin tried to persuade Likud’s allies on the Right to sign a form saying that Netanyahu would be their only candidate for prime minister during that period. Shas and United Torah Judaism initially declined to sign the form, but agreed to do so on Thursday. Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked still refused to sign, saying that such a document was irrelevant.
Sources close to Netanyahu said that if he is sure that the entire Right-Center bloc would back him and only him to form a government during the key three weeks, he would not need to initiate a Likud leadership race. Netanyahu’s spokesman had announced on Thursday afternoon that the prime minister was considering holding a snap Likud primary to dash any hope inside Blue and White that there would be a Likud rebellion that would unseat Netanyahu as head of the party.
“I am ready,” MK Gideon Sa’ar responded on Twitter, indicating that he would lead the rebellion against Netanyahu.
But ministers close to Netanyahu later advised him against holding the primary, saying that he had too much to lose and nothing to gain.
Some sources close to Netanyahu said late Thursday that he had not made a final decision, but others said the leadership race idea was dead, and that all along it was “political spin to prove that Sa’ar was conspiring to unseat him, and Sa’ar fell into the trap.”
Netanyahu met on Thursday evening with the head of the Likud Central Committee, Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz, about initiating a meeting of the committee next week to approve the snap primary.
The prime minister reacted to Sa’ar without mentioning his name in his address to the Likud faction: “More than a million people voted for me for the Likud leadership and the premiership, and another million citizens added their support via other parties that backed me.”
After the media left the meeting, Netanyahu told Likud MKs that he had not made a decision to initiate a primary but that it had to be done because “Blue and White is banking on there being a putsch in Likud.”
Blue and White’s No. 2, MK Yair Lapid, responded on Twitter saying: “Someone must explain to Netanyahu that elections are not a coup, running against him in a primary is not a coup, and forming a government without him is not a coup. It is called democracy, and it works wonderfully.”
Lapid announced on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for prime minister in the next government. The announcement followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that Lapid was the obstacle to the formation of a national unity government, because he would not give up his goal of rotating in the Prime Minister’s Office with Gantz.
“For the sake of a unity government, I’m forgoing the rotation,” Lapid told the Blue and White Party. “There won’t be a rotation with three people. That’s not serious. Running a country is a serious matter. It’s far more important to me that there’s unity in the country, that there won’t be another election, that this country begins a healing process, mends the wounds, changes the national priorities.”
Gantz wished Netanyahu well in his cases, and said he does not want to see him convicted and jailed. But he said that Netanyahu “should not barricade himself in his post” and refuse to leave.
In a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in the morning, Netanyahu invited Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman to join the coalition he is trying to form.
Netanyahu told his former ally and current political nemesis that he should join as soon as possible, in order to contribute to the formation of a unity government.
However, Netanyahu’s spokesman said the meeting did not result in a breakthrough.
Liberman released a statement afterward saying that he urged Netanyahu to have Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu meet to decide the next government’s guidelines on policy, and only then deal with distributing portfolios as well as who should go first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.
If no progress is made toward building a coalition in upcoming days, Netanyahu is expected to return his mandate to form a government to Rivlin.