Former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who retired from political life 18 months ago, is currently looking into returning to politics but not in his home, the Likud party. Sources on the right have told Channel 10 News that in recent months Sa’ar has approached potential moderate right-wing partners, among others a former journalist, a former IDF chief of staff, and maybe even Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett.
According to the same sources, Sa’ar in recent months has been examining the possibility of not rejoining Likud, but to establish a new home instead, a little to the right of the Likud. The same sources made it clear that Sa’ar had been mulling this before it became known that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to push up the Likud primaries to the near future. It is believed that Netanyahu is interested in running the primaries early precisely to catch potential rivals like Sa’ar off guard, in order to thwart their threats.
Gideon Sa’ar served as a member of Knesset for Likud from 2003 to 2014, and held the posts of Minister of the Interior and later of Education. In 2008 and 2012, Sa’ar gained the highest number votes in the Likud primaries, which gave him the second strongest position in the Likud’s Knesset coalition, but he, reportedly, felt that PM Netanyahu never treated him as his electoral value would have indicated. In September 2014, Sa’ar announced that he would be resigning his post before the next election. He left the Knesset on November 5, 2014, saying he needed a hiatus from politics.
According to the Channel 10 News report, Minister of Education and Chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party Naftali Bennett is one of the people Sa’ar contacted to join him in his new venture. It has been known for some time that Bennett is looking for ways to break with the ultra-Orthodox elements in his party, and moving to a more moderate right-wing party, along with Sa’ar, could serve his needs. Bennett knows that with T’kuma, Minister Uri Ariel’s 2-MK faction inside Bayit Yehudi, he could never attract a sizeable portion of the traditional, center-right voters who normally vote Likud.
Bennett feels ready to run for the Prime Minister’s position, but he needs a bigger secular component on his team. Both his candidates from that camp have been abysmal failures — one, soccer star Eli Ohana never made it to the list, having been rejected by the majority of the party activists; the other, Yinon Magal, resigned from the Knesset in disgrace recently, over sexual misconduct allegations. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is currently the only non-religious member of the party who is thriving.
The even bigger question is, should Bennett and Sa’ar decide to join forces, possibly with Yair Lapid, the “former journalist” in Sa’ar’s leak, will Sa’ar agree to play number 2 to Bennett after having grown tired of the second banana role under Netanyahu? Could two celeb politician put aside their egos to forge a large center-right party with Yair Lapid, whose ego could easily match theirs and then some? This is the stuff that makes the between-elections period in Israel so exciting. Stay tuned.