It is widely assumed in Likud that Gideon Sa’ar, who just quit as interior minister, will join forces with Moshe Kahlon, another former Likud minister, who is creating a new party to contest the next Knesset election.
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For the moment, Sa’ar’s resignation from the cabinet and Knesset will make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even more dependent on Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Sa’ar and Kahlon have been meeting on a regular basis. Their aides did not deny on Thursday that the two met on the day before Sa’ar announced he was taking “time out” from political life, on Wednesday.
“Sa’ar and Kahlon are good friends who meet regularly,” an Aide of Sa’ar’s said. “His decision to resign from political life was kept a secret and did not come up in any of his meetings with Kahlon.”
One way or another, Sa’ar made efforts to address social issues in his resignation speech, making statements that echoed Kahlon’s positions.
A source close to Sa’ar told Haaretz Thursday that Sa’ar is a Likud man and will stay that way. “If he decides to return to political life he’ll do so from Likud, not from some niche party,” he said.
A senior Likud figure said Thursday he suspected Sa’ar and Kahlon were scheming to take over Likud from within. “Both of them remained Likud members after they resigned. If they see Netanyahu weakening, they’ll take Likud over together or separately from within, although we should not rule out their cooperation outside the party as well,” he said.
With Sa’ar’s resignation, Likud will become the second biggest party with only 18 Knesset seats, while Yesh Atid will be the biggest, with 19 Knesset seats.
Sa’ar will be replaced in the Knesset by Yisrael Beiteinu’s representative, former Labor MK Leon Litinsky, who is next on the joint list the two parties formed before the last election.
Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir had promised to quit the Knesset after the holidays but to keep his portfolio, thus enabling Litinsky to enter the Knesset. Now he will not be required to resign.
“There’s no reason for Shamir to resign now. We’ve achieved our goal without this move,” a Yisrael Beiteinu MK said.
Netanyahu will need Lieberman’s cooperation to advance reforms, make significant moves and maintain the coalition’s stability, political sources say.
Some Likud members accused Netanyahu on Thursday of stunting the career of the ministers below him. “The middle generation cannot grow in Likud,” said MK Miri Regev, who sees herself a ministerial candidate following Sa’ar’s resignation.
Another Likud source said “Netanyahu is very weak in people skills. He’s fallen out with almost all the senior ministers – Sa’ar, Lapid, with Bennett he has ups and downs and also with Silvan [Shalom]. No wonder Sa’ar had had enough.”
Sa’ar was a happy man on Thursday.
“I want to make it clear, because I read the commentaries. I didn’t leave last night in order to return tomorrow morning. There’s life outside politics,” Sa’ar said Thursday on the occasion of receiving the title of honorary resident of Lod.
A day after he announced he was taking “time out” from political life and quitting the cabinet and Knesset, Sa’ar cited philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.”
Afterward he said “Every day I made decisions pertaining to people’s lives. Today, thank God, I’m a happy man. A free man. “
Sa’ar devoted the rest of his speech to social issues. “I believe the state’s security is before all social fortitude, reducing social gaps, investing in society and education and children,” he said.
After a short morning walk in Tel Aviv with his wife and infant son Thursday, accompanied by press photographers, Sa’ar resumed his office work. His wife, the journalist Geula Even, gave an interview to Army Radio about her husband’s dramatic resignation.
“He resigned now and in the future he’ll decide what will happen … He wants to rest now,” she said.
“You don’t understand how much he misses the hours in which he’s not here, with the family,” she said. “With his kind of work load, which he’s had for many years, and his desire to act and contribute, it’s difficult to be both at home and at work fully.”
Even denied rumors that Sa’ar resigned because a story exposing certain things about him was soon to be released. “All those stories were checked time after time and there was nothing behind them,” she said. “Those cowards do those things behind his back. Every time they tried to overcome him using the vilest, most despicable methods, they never succeeded.”
“It’s not simple to give up a position that could lead him to the prime minister’s post. He has a speech he wrote on April 29 announcing his resignation. The only reason he gave it up was [Reuven] Rivlin’s campaign for president and Gideon’s friendship with him and desire to help him,” she said.