Netanyahu rival bolts party to launch leadership challenge

The leading rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inside the ruling Likud party says he is breaking away to form a new political party ahead of expected elections early next year

Saar said that he could not serve under Netanyahu any longer and would seek the prime minister’s post himself as the head of a new party.

“A change in the country’s leadership is needed,” Saar said. “Today, Israel needs unity and stability. Netanyahu can’t, and won’t be able to, provide either.”

A former aide and senior Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, Saar was long considered a rising star in Likud. He held the senior posts of education minister and interior minister under Netanyahu and finished first in party primaries.

But like other Likud members who have risen too fast, he began to be perceived by Netanyahu as a threat. He took a break from politics in 2014, then returned to the Likud last year, only to be trounced by Netanyahu in a party primary.

In a statement, Likud said Saar was leaving because he was disappointed over his loss in the primary vote and had seen his popularity plunge in internal party polls.

Netanyahu this year formed a coalition with his main rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, with the stated aim of managing the coronavirus crisis. But their partnership has been plagued by mistrust and paralysis.

Gantz last week voted in favor of a preliminary motion to dissolve parliament and hold new elections. Although last ditch negotiations are taking place to save the coalition, parliament is expected to make a final decision this month on what would be the fourth national election in just two years.