Likud worried Rivlin will give premiership to Sa'ar

Zohar: This must be taken seriously. President's associates: No conspiracy

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Gideon Sa'ar (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Gideon Sa'ar (R)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Top Likud figures expressed concern on Saturday night that President Reuven Rivlin would not be impartial in deciding who forms the next government, due to his close relationship with Gideon Sa'ar and animosity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sa'ar served as Rivlin's campaign manager in his run for president five years ago, successfully bringing him to victory, despite the efforts of Netanyahu, who worked vigorously behind the scenes to prevent Rivlin's election. The Likud figures said they were worried that Rivlin would take revenge when he grants the mandate to form a government after the March 23 election.
"This possibility needs to be taken seriously, and I hope it doesn't happen," Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar told The Jerusalem Post. "We hope the president will go by the numbers and give the mandate to Netanyahu."
Justice Minister Amir Ohana also expressed concern about Rivlin on Saturday night in a KAN-TV interview about Higher Education Minister Ze'ev Elkin's departure from Likud to Sa'ar's new party New Hope.  
"I don't know which Elkin to believe: the one who praised Netanyahu and his leadership and achievements a few days ago or the new Elkin created by friends of Gideon Sa'ar like [Haaretz columnist] Yossi Verter and Ruvi Rivlin," Ohana said.   
 
Sources close to Rivlin said they were not surprised by such speculation in Likud, which they noted has happened in previous campaigns. Rivlin has consistently given the mandate to form a government to the candidate who has the most recommendations from members of Knesset to build a coalition.
"There is no conspiracy," a source close to Rivlin said.
Elkin continued his attack on the prime minister on Saturday night in an interview on Channel 12's program Meet the Press.
"I don't hate Netanyahu, but the way he has changed is a tragedy," Elkin said. "His personal considerations have become more dominant in his decision-making, and it is very dangerous. He is dangerous for the State of Israel."
Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) responded by telling Channel 13 that Sa'ar "serves the Left."
When the resignation from the Knesset of Elkin on Thursday takes effect on Sunday, he will be replaced in the Knesset by the next name on the Likud list, a party activist named Matti Yogev, who is chairwoman of the Mila Center for Equal Opportunity. Yogev supported Sa'ar against Netanyahu in last December's Likud leadership race, but she said on Saturday night that she is loyal to Netanyahu and Likud.
If anyone else in Likud resigns, the next name on the list is former MK Yehudah Glick.  
Glick said he did not believe any other MK in Likud would resign and that he is praying for the health of MK David Bitan, who has COVID-19.
"I have no plans to be an MK in the near future," Glick said.
Former minister Ayoub Kara agreed to enter the Knesset on Friday after two days of deliberations. Kara, who was the first Druze minister to hold a portfolio, was set to become an MK again, because he was next on the Likud list following the resignation on Wednesday of Sharren Haskel.
But he initially said he was not sure whether he would agree to enter the Knesset, because he did not want to lose his job working for a sheikh in Dubai. In a video he released on Friday, Kara said the sheikh was very happy to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He initially said his decision would also depend on whether there would be primaries for the next Likud list for Knesset. He did not get a response to that request, but he said Friday that he decided to return anyway due to the departures from the party, which would help him move up the list, even if there is no primary.
"After a conversation this morning with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and messages from tens of thousands of Likud members, I decided to return to the Knesset and to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win the election," Kara said.
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah will quit the Knesset on Sunday to run with a new party. He will be replaced by the next candidate on the combined Blue and White-Yesh Atid list, Blue and White director-general Yael Ron Ben-Moshe.