Two members of the coalition were expected to announce Wednesday that they would join Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar in a new breakaway party as Israel inched closer to its fourth round of elections in less than two years.
Sa’ar resigned the Knesset on Wednesday, after announcing Tuesday that he was launching a new party with the aim of replacing Netanyahu as the leader of the rightwing in Israel.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and the chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Zvi Hauser – both former Netanyahu aides elected on the Blue and White ticket – were expected to announce they will run with Sa’ar in the next elections.
The two currently sit in the coalition as members of their own Derech Eretz faction.
Likud officials on Wednesday sought to downplay the impact of Sa’ar’s announcement, with one saying it would not make any difference to the ongoing political row between the Likud and coalition partner Blue and White that has prompted the move to dissolve the Knesset.
However, Sa’ar’s move could harm Netanyahu’s ability to form a new government after the next elections, with initial polling indicating that he could win in the range of 10 seats, enough to block Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition.
“Everything that has happened in the last year has made me realize a change in the country’s leadership is necessary,” Sa’ar said Tuesday night.
He slammed the prime minister’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and accused him of corrupting his party and position in order to avoid criminal charges after being indicted for corruption.
“Loyalty to Likud’s way, values and ideals have been replaced by flattery and platitudes that border on a cult of personality of a man who is flesh and blood,” he said.
His support is expected to come mainly from Likud and Yamina voters. Unlike Sa’ar, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has not said he would refuse to join another Netanyahu-led government.
Sa’ar made a failed challenge against Netanyahu for the Likud leadership in a December 2019 primary, winning just 27.5% of the vote.