Analysis: Sa’ar’s gambit to replace Netanyahu quickly falls flat

The decision to hold the primaries after the Knesset disperses and before another general election makes Netanyahu the heavy favorite again.

By Mati Tuchfeld, JNS

Gideon Sa’ar is losing altitude. The gambit he set in motion on Saturday night, to hold snap party primaries, expired 24 hours later, when the head of the Likud Central Committee Haim Katz, who is actually a political ally of Sa’ar, fell in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and agreed to convene a primary election in around six weeks, after the Knesset disperses.

For close to 24 hours, Sa’ar drew the attention of the political system, prodding his adversaries and causing the media, in its typically hostile to Netanyahu fashion, to focus mainly on him and the tumult he was instigating within his own party. Ultimately, however, what people will mostly remember from all this was his disloyalty in the moment of truth.

Until now, the rivalry with Netanyahu generally benefited Sa’ar, perhaps even amplified his status. The question is whether he crossed the line and will lose prestige from this point forward.

The difference between Sa’ar’s proposal to hold snap primaries within the 21 days the Knesset can still produce a government, and Netanyahu’s agreement with Katz to hold primaries after the Knesset disperses in 21 days, is massive.

Sa’ar sought to vie for the party’s leadership and to receive the president’s mandate to form the next government.

The slogan from his campaign, which he effectively launched Saturday night, was that the Netanyahu era was over because he had essentially lost the ability to form a government. While he, Sa’ar, not only increases the odds of keeping the Likud in power but is certain to do so, due to the fact that Benny Gantz, Amir Peretz and other Likud rivals – including, apparently, Avigdor Lieberman – scorn Netanyahu on a personal level, not his party.

Hence Netanyahu’s agreement with Katz is no less than a slap in Sa’ar’s face. While the timing of the primaries he had aimed for would have worked in his favor – because he offers a government that Netanyahu cannot provide – Netanyahu and Katz opted for a primary election that will determine who will lead the Likud in an election campaign.

Not only does Netanyahu have the advantage in such a scenario, Sa’ar isn’t even a factor. There’s little doubt who Likudniks will support with a general election looming. It remains obvious that Netanyahu doesn’t have a true rival in this arena.

Netanyahu and Katz also agreed to annul the primaries to determine the party’s Knesset ticket. In this 21-day period, it is important for Netanyahu to show his back-seat MKs that they have nothing to fear; and that none of them should feel the need to negotiate with Blue and White about defecting to save their political skins. It’s possible this agreement will indeed hold firm until the general election, but no one should be shocked if after these 21 days, when the election campaign is sure to commence, changes will be made in this regard.

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Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.