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Peace and Conflict

Political manoeuvring - Gideon Saar breaks National Unity Party alliance | Update 13th March 2024

Political manoeuvring - Gideon Saar breaks National Unity Party alliance via BICom

What’s happened: Minister Saar announced last night that he was breaking up his political alliance with Minister Gantz and reconstituting his own New Hope faction.  

  • Addressing party activists in Tel Aviv, Saar said, “From this moment, I intend to act to have additional political forces join us that will lead to the creation of a strong, alternative, stately right-wing political force, as the broad public wishes to see happen.”
  • He continued, “Israel today needs a stately right-wing alternative. I don’t see anyone else who can do that. That is why I arrived at the decision to end the partnership with Blue and White and to immediately reestablish the New Hope faction—the stately right-wing as an independent faction in the Knesset.”
  • The split came after a series of ideological disagreements between Saar and the more centrist Gantz, these included:
    • Gantz’s perceived support for a two state solution, that Saar opposes.
    • Gantz’s rejection of repealing the Gaza disengagement, that Saar supports.
    • Gantz’s trip to Washington and London last week, without the consent from the prime minister.  
    • The recent vote to remove Hadash (Communist Party) MK Ofer Cassif’s from the Knesset after he supported South Africa’s claim at the ICJ. Gantz did not participate in the vote, meaning the motion did not carry. 
  • A Saar insider is quoted in Yediot Ahronot this morning saying, “had it not been for the war, we would have left sooner. There is a clear right-wing sentiment in the public, and we need to capitalise on that politically.”
  • Whilst an official close to Gantz told the paper, “Gideon Saar acted deplorably and stabbed us in the back in order to return to the Likud. Without his connection to us, he wouldn’t have crossed the electoral threshold and would have remained out of the Knesset.”

Context: The National Unity Party was formed in the summer 2022 ahead of the last election as an amalgamation of Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party and Gideon Saar’s more right wing New Hope Party.

  • The alliance made sense when they both rejected Netanyahu’s leadership and could agree to a consensual civil agenda.
  • However, there was already perceived tension between the pair when they joined the current emergency government: Gantz chose Eisenkot to join him in the inner war cabinet, whist Saar was appointed to the wider security cabinet.
  • Gantz chose Eisenkot as, like himself he is a former IDF Chief of Staff, with the requisite intimate understanding of military affairs. Saar argued at the time that his vast political experience, having served in five security cabinets, and his civilian perspective made him just as, if not more, qualified to serve in the role.
  • This latest move has increased speculation that Saar could eventually rejoin the Likud, the party he left after challenging Netanyahu’s leadership.
  • However, Saar’s fellow party member, MK Zeev Elkin, also a former Likud minister, said “we’re not going anywhere near the Likud, [and] our criticism of Netanyahu stands.” Elkin also highlighted other disagreements with Gantz, adding “we should have already been long after the operation in Rafah, and we need to act with greater determination, more quickly.” On Netanyahu, Elkin emphasised “We didn’t support him before and we won’t support him after the war."
  • Others have speculated that the move is about Saar positioning himself as a stately right wing alternative to the Likud and the timing was meant to pre-emt others, primarily former PM Naftali Bennett from owning that political space.
  • This move comes at a time when their National Unity Party was consistently regarded as the most popular party in opinion polls. Last night, before Saar’s announcement, the latest Channel 12 poll gave the (united) party a projected 35 seats, ahead of the Likud on 19 seats (for a full breakdown of latest polling, see the Israel Media Summary below).
  • However, in the current Knesset the move sees New Hope as a four person Knesset faction, with Gantz’s Blue & White reduced down to eight parliamentarians.         

Looking ahead: Saar is expected to now be seeking Netanyahu’s approval to join the war cabinet, as the head of an independent Knesset faction.

  • Whilst on the one hand Netanyahu would approve of another mainstream right wing voice in the inner forum, his appointment will raise the demands of other coalition heads like Ben Gvir and Smotrich to also demand their promotion into the war cabinet.      
  • Already last night, Ben Gvir’s office declared, “If Netanyahu accepts Saar’s demand, Minister Ben Gvir will also demand to join. We have to change the small cabinet’s thinking and to lead to victory.”

via BICom