N.Y Time: June 18, 2021 9:08 pm

Sa’ar demands Lapid ‘step aside’ and cede premiership to Bennett, before it’s ‘too late’

Sa’ar demands Lapid ‘step aside’ and cede premiership to Bennett, before it’s ‘too late’

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday urged Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid to “put ego aside,” in an apparent call to let Yamina chief Naftali Bennett serve as prime minister first in a potential rotation deal in a new government.

But Lapid insisted parties in the bloc dedicated to ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must first recommend him as their candidate for prime minister, so that President Reuven Rivlin charges him with forming a government. Once that happened, Lapid said, there would be “nothing I’m unwilling to consider.”

Lapid, whose 17-seat centrist party is the largest in the “change bloc” seeking to replace Likud leader Netanyahu as premier, has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by the Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) parties to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers. The 6-strong Joint List may also recommend Lapid.

Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of the Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) parties — 52 seats in all.

Before the March 23 election, Bennett ruled out sitting in a government headed by Lapid, as did Sa’ar, whose New Hope has 6 seats.

Yamina only has 7 seats but has not committed to either bloc, positioning Bennett as a potential kingmaker. Also undecided is Mansour Abbas’s Islamic conservative party Ra’am, with 4 seats. Benny Gantz said Tuesday his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.

“On election night… I announced that we’ll work without ego to form a change government,” Sa’ar tweeted on Tuesday. “Today it is my duty to say: The game of gathering recommendations won’t lead to the formation of a government, only a purposeful and quick effort to establish a realistic parliamentary majority will.”

He added: “The window of opportunity is limited. Lapid, I put ego aside. Now it’s your turn.”

Lapid quickly responded to Sa’ar, saying “there is nothing I’m unwilling to consider” to replace Netanyahu as prime minister.

“I said during the campaign and I say again now: The country is more important than my personal ambitions or anyone else’s,” he wrote on Facebook.

But the Yesh Atid leader said the change bloc’s focus over the coming week should be on ensuring Rivlin does not task Netanyahu with forming a government after next week’s consultations with faction representatives on who they back for prime minister.

“For this not happen, all the change bloc parties need to recommend Yesh Atid,” he said. “The moment the process begins, everything is on the table. We’re prepared for painful concessions, the important thing is to form a change government and to go to work to cure the country of two years of a social and political crisis.”

Sa’ar wrote back, saying Lapid’s proposal was “backwards.”

“The time to step aside is now. Afterwards, it might be too late,” Sa’ar warned.

The back-and-forth came as Channel 13 news asserted that representatives for Lapid and Bennett have agreed in principle to switch off as prime minister, but the two remain at odds over who will be premier first.

A key concern shared by the two is that if they form a government and Netanyahu leaves politics, the other will then be able to assemble an alternative coalition without handing over the premiership, according to the report.

The network also said Bennett was expected to meet with both Lapid and Netanyahu by the end of the week.