Likud MK Gideon Saar openly challenged party leader Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding that primaries be held within the coming days. On Sunday night, reports said that Netanyahu had agreed to new primaries, but only after the breakup of the current Knesset, in about six weeks. But the Likud cannot afford to wait that long, he told Reshet Bet Monday.
“I appreciate the prime minister’s agreement to hold primaries. We need to hold them within 21 days in order to prevent a third election and avoid further poisoning of the public sphere,” said Saar. “I believe that if I win the primary I will be able to form a government immediately.” Netanyahu hasn’t been able to do so, and new elections won’t change that, said Saar. “Netanyahu won’t be able to form a government even if there are third and fourth elections. He needs to draw the proper conclusions.”
Saar is so far the only Likud MK to publicly challenge Netanyahu, with party members criticizing him for the comments. Especially vocal was Likud MK Nir Barkat, who accused Saar of trying to organize a movement to oust Netanyahu. “The other side was also unable to form a government, like Netanyahu,” Barkat told Army Radio on Sunday. “No one wants another election, but you cannot throw a prime minister who was democratically elected out of office. I want to remind everyone that the prime minister is innocent until proven guilty and the law allows him to continue to serve. Blue and White has been waiting for this ‘rebellion.’”
On Monday, Saar got his chance to respond. Barkat “came to us from Kadima, after he supported the Oslo Accords and the disengagement. I would suggest that he act a bit more humbly. I am not running against Nir Barkat, I am running against the prime minister.”
In an interview Motzoei Shabbos, Saar said that a Likud primary was “necessary for the country and for the party. I am not seeking a split in the Likud. I want the Likud to remain strong so it and not the left can lead the country.” In a statement, the Likud said that Saar was alone in his desire for primaries. “Saar as usual is showing zero loyalty and maximum divisiveness.”
Saar and Netanyahu had a falling-out several years ago, and in September 2014, Saar announced that he was taking a hiatus from politics. In the intervening period, Netanyahu accused Saar of working against his leadership of the Likud. Last November, he accused Saar of conspiring with President Reuven Rivlin to recommend someone other than Netanyahu to form the next coalition if and when elections take place. Saar denied the accusations.