In a devastating blow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, Likud Member of the Knesset (MK) Gideon Sa’ar — long seen as the Prime Minister’s nemesis in the Likud Party — announced he was quitting the party and will form his own right-wing party. Sa’ar’s new party will be called New Hope and he will run under its banner for the premiership in the next election, which looks likely to come soon.
The former leading Likud minister said his party had become a “tool for the personal interests of the person in charge, including matters relating to his criminal trial,” and has fostered a “cult of personality” around Netanyahu.
Sa’ar will also be resigning his Knesset seat because he felt it was right for him to step down as he was elected to parliament for Likud.
Sa’ar: ‘Replacing Netanyahu is the Order of the Hour’
Sa’ar, who failed in a leadership challenge against the current Prime Minister last year, said the current coalition had wasted its parliamentary support, and failed in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Replacing Netanyahu is the order of the hour,” he declared, adding that the dangers of overly protracted leadership create a moral hazard.
There are many reasons why Netanyahu should be worried about Sa’ar’s leadership bid. Israel elects its governments using proportional representation, which means that the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of votes it wins.
Sa’ar Could Pose a Direct Challenge to Netanyahu
On their own, New Hope might not receive a lot of votes, but Sa’ar’s new party will aim to join forces with other existing political factions before the next election. Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel — who quit the Blue and White list when they joined the Netanyahu-led government in May — may also join New Hope.
Israel looks likely to be heading towards its fourth election in two years. Last Wednesday, the Knesset gave initial approval to a bill to dissolve the parliament amid a budget crisis and call a new vote.
Though the polls currently suggest Likud would be the largest party after a fourth election, Sa’ar could split the vote for Netanyahu. The Prime Minister is fighting back against Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, which is the official opposition party. Bennett has made significant gains in recent polls and he also poses a challenge to Netanyahu.
Has Netanyahu’s Luck Run Out?
Despite this, Israelis have little faith in either Netanyahu or his Blue and White counterpart Benny Gantz. The Israel Voice Index survey shows that 62 percent of Israelis view the Prime Minister as having very low or moderately low credibility, while 60 percent say the same for the Defense Minister. These low levels of support for both figures will affect how both of their parties perform during a fourth election, especially when Bennett’s credibility is rising in some polls.
Many political analysts told The Times of Israel that the current Likud-Blue and White coalition might incline more toward a compromise in the light of the electoral threat posed by Sa’ar’s party. If both parties do this, it is unclear what impact this will have on the state budget, which is due to be rejected on December 23. Once it is rejected, an election would automatically be called for March 23. Either way, both Gantz and Netanyahu realize that Sa’ar poses a threat to their coalition.
Netanyahu has been fortunate enough to win the last three elections over the last two years. Until now, he has also been the favorite to win a fourth election. The Prime Minister has survived many different scenarios over the last two years and with Sa’ar now leading his own party, maybe Netanyahu’s luck is about to run out, but that may not be a bad thing given how much his credibility has been damaged recently.