Netanyahu, Sa’ar, Bennett trade barbs as fight on Right begins

Poll finds Sa’ar-Yamina bond would beat Likud by six seats.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar (R) submits his resignation letter to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the Knesset, December 9, 2020 (photo credit: SHARON GABAI)
Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar (R) submits his resignation letter to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the Knesset, December 9, 2020
(photo credit: SHARON GABAI)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his returning challenger Gideon Sa’ar began attacking each other on Wednesday night after Sa’ar quit the Knesset to begin his run for prime minister in a new party.
Speaking at a press conference about the coronavirus, Netanyahu mentioned the 2019 Likud primary in which he defeated Sa’ar by a margin of almost three to one – 72.5% to 27.5%.
“He was trounced by a wide margin, and since then he only fell in the polls," Netanyahu said. “While I am busy bringing vaccines to Israeli citizens, there are those who are busy saving their political careers.”
Sa’ar responded that “Netanyahu looked very stressed” accusing the prime minister of “running away” from a vote on a bill requiring a referendum for ceding land in Judea and Samaria Jewish communities that was sponsored by Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee head Zvi Hauser, a Sa’ar ally.
The resignation letter Sa’ar submitted to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin on Wednesday will take effect on Friday morning, when he will be replaced in the Knesset by the next candidate on the Likud list, Nissim Vaturi, who worked in the Defense Ministry.
“I will return to the 24th Knesset as the head of a large political force that will replace the government,” Sa’ar told reporters outside the Knesset Speaker’s Office.
Hauser and his Derech Eretz colleague, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, announced in a statement to the press at the Knesset that they are leaving the Blue and White faction for Sa’ar’s party. Hendel and Hauser praised Sa’ar and criticized Netanyahu in explaining their decision.
“Being right-wing does not mean being a Bibi-ist: It means values,” Hendel said
Hauser said the current government failed and must be replaced by an alternative on the Right.
Hendel and Hauser were elected to the Knesset on the Blue and White list as part of the Telem Party of MK Moshe Ya’alon. When Ya’alon decided to join Yesh Atid in the opposition, they broke off from Telem and formed Derech Eretz, which caucused with the Blue and White faction.
Hauser and Hendel negotiated with MK Naftali Bennett but did not reach an agreement with him on joining his Yamina Party. Hauser appeared to criticize Bennett when he said in the press conference that right-wing voters have cast ballots for the Likud and Yamina only because they did not have a better choice.
In his first reaction to his newfound competition, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said Sa’ar was wrong to form a party because of his opposition to Netanyahu. He warned of what he said was an obsession in Israeli politics with the prime minister.
“The political system and the media have become crazily obsessed with being pro-Bibi or anti-Bibi,” Bennett told the Knesset plenum. “It has become as if the face of Israel is just ‘yes Bibi’ or ‘no Bibi.’ They ask this question all the time, and I say I didn’t enter politics for ‘only Bibi’ or ‘only not Bibi.’ Parties should not be established just to be ‘only Bibi’ or ‘only not Bibi.’”
The first polls since Sa’ar made his announcement found that his new party would win 15 to 18 seats if elections were held now.
The polls found that if former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton joined Sa’ar’s as-yet-unnamed party, it would win 21 to 22 seats and come close to beating Netanyahu’s Likud.
A Midgam poll on Channel 12 found that if Sa’ar and Bennett ran together, their list would win 32 seats, compared to only 26 for the Likud. The poll of 502 respondents had a margin of error of 4.4%.
Another poll – taken by Panels Research for 103FM, which is part of The Jerusalem Post Group – found that Sa’ar’s party would be Israel’s third-largest, after the Likud and Yamina.
Sa’ar’s list would take support away from every non-Arab and non-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) party.
The Likud would drop to 25 mandates, Yamina would win 19, Sa’ar’s party 17, Yesh Atid 14, the Joint List 11, Shas nine, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) seven each, Blue and White six and Meretz five.
The bloc of parties that opposes Netanyahu remaining as prime minister that could potentially form a government without him would include Yamina, Sa’ar’s party, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White, which would win 63 seats, according to the poll.
The bloc led by Netanyahu, which includes the Likud, Shas and UTJ would win only 41 mandates.
Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.