Netanyahu Calls on Rival Sa'ar to 'Return Home to Likud'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, two weeks ago.
Netanyahu speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, two weeks ago. Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Friday on Gideon Sa'ar, who broke away from Likud ahead of the March election, to return to the party, assuring him he would be welcome with open arms.

"Likud is your home, you've grown here and you'll be welcome here with open arms. This isn’t the time to form a left-wing government," Netanyahu said, urging Sa'ar to join forces and "form a stable right-wing coalition to guarantee our future in our country."

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"We all believe in this and we'll do this together. Let’s celebrate next Independence Day with a stable right-wing government," he added.

Netanyahu also stressed the accomplishments of his previous government, saying “Last year we celebrated Independence Day over Zoom, and now we’re celebrating in parks. This year’s Independence Day symbolizes what we have achieved as a people and as a country.”

Netanyahu added that Israel is facing enormous challenges from “rehabilitating the economy, to obtaining more vaccines so that there isn’t a resurgence of the virus and our economy can remain open, maintaining our security, especially against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and persisting against global pressures that are only increasing.”

He argued therefore that “Israel needs a strong government, a stable, right-wing government that will remain for years,” and called on Smotrich, Bennett and Sa’ar “to put all other considerations aside and establish the strong right-wing government that Israel so desperately needs.”

Earlier, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich redoubled on his commitment to not sit in a government supported by Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List. This means that the prime minister’s only option, besides recruiting defectors, would be to persuade Sa’ar to backtrack on his campaigning promises and a join a government under Netanyahu’s leadership. Sa’ar, on his part, has already rejected the possibility that he or his party members would join a Netanyahu-led government.

On Monday, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett said that he told Netanyahu that his Likud party can count on his faction's vote to form a right-wing government.

The two met at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem shortly after Bennett's statement. A joint statement said they agreed negotiation teams would continue talks.

"As you may already know, I could've already been a prime minister by now," Bennett said on the matter on Monday. "But, my main objective is to thwart a fifth election round," he added.

Last week, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government after he received the highest number of recommendations at 52. With Yamina's seven seats added to his bloc, Netanyahu still remains short of the necessary 61-seat majority to form a coalition.

Netanyahu now has 18 days left to try and form a coalition before May 4, although he may receive a two-week extension from the president once that time has elapsed.

The prime minister made similar remarks just a week after the election, calling on his erstwhile partners Gideon Sa'ar and Naftali Bennett to "return home." 

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