President Netanyahu? Likud rival offers PM figurehead position

“He has an international reputation and extraordinary diplomatic skills,” said Sa’ar of Netanyahu.

By World Israel News Staff 

Two days before his showdown against the longtime Likud party leader and prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Gideon Sa’ar has adopted a more practical approach amid cries among some in the party that he is trying to break up the Right by challenging Netanyahu in Thursday’s Likud leadership primary.

Sa’ar’s message has become that he is not acting against Netanyahu, but, in fact, is trying to allow the incumbent premier to continue to serve the country in the best way possible under the circumstances. His solution is to make Netanyahu Israel’s next president when Reuven Rivlin’s term expires in July 2021.

“I am taking two things into account,” Sa’ar told Kan public radio on Tuesday.

“The prime minister is blocked from forming a new government, but he can can contribute to the state. He has an international reputation and extraordinary diplomatic skills, just like Shimon Peres in his time,” the Likud MK explained.

The comments in the radio interview followed Sa’ar’s statement in a campaign speech on Monday, when he declared that if “I am elected as Likud chairman, I will seek Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election as Israel’s next president.”

Sa’ar’s comment about Netanyahu’s problem in forming a new government referred to his failures following the April and December parliamentary elections, which have led to a third Knesset election scheduled for March 2.

The failure was due, in part, to the refusal of members of the other large parliamentary faction, Blue and White, to arrange a regular prime ministerial rotation in a national unity government between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz until the incumbent premier could prove his innocence in court regarding the alleged corruption.

The presidency, currently held by former Likud MK Rivlin, is a ceremonial position. An Israeli president serves a seven-year term. He is elected by the 120 members of Knesset.

Shimon Peres, who had previously served as prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister, was elected president in 2007.

Though serving in a ceremonial position, Peres continued to use his diplomatic contacts and influence to advance international initiatives. After Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, he and the president periodically squared off, as Peres tried to promote a left-wing approach toward the Palestinian issue.

During Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, 1996-1999, he faced pressure from President Ezer Weizman to employ a more left-leaning policy regarding a peace process.

A leading Netanyahu ally, Likud whip MK Miki Zohar told Kan on Tuesday that he welcomed Sa’ar’s new approach toward the prime minister.

“They’ve rethought their path,” said Zohar. After earlier choosing to “frequently” attack the prime minister, he added, the Sa’ar camp has opted for a new approach which, according to the party whip, would help the challenger.

“Even those voting for [Sa’ar] don’t want him to attack the prime minister,” Zohar told public radio.