Israeli Seen as Heir to Netanyahu Says Two-State Idea Is OverBy and
Gideon Sa’ar says Palestinian state would threaten Israel
Polls show Sa’ar a strong contender in post-Netanyahu Likud
An Israeli politician considered a leading candidate to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said world powers should stop trying to create a Palestinian state.
Twenty-five years of failed diplomacy show a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t realistic and a fresh approach is needed, Likud Party politician Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday in an interview near Tel Aviv. The former education and interior minister has said he’ll run for prime minister after Netanyahu, who is facing a police investigation into alleged corruption, leaves office.
“The fact that people still say ‘two-state solution’ doesn’t make it a solution -- it’s a two-state slogan,” Sa’ar said. “It’s no longer rational to support a two-state solution. We must think about reality.”
No one could guarantee that a Palestinian state wouldn’t become an Islamist haven threatening Israel’s main population centers, Sa’ar said. Instead, he supports a regional approach that would involve Egypt and Jordan and leave the Palestinians with less than full sovereignty.
With President Donald Trump threatening to cut off U.S. aid unless Palestinians come to the negotiating table, Israel’s right-wing parties are promoting policies that could make talks harder. The Knesset this week passed a law raising the bar for partitioning Jerusalem in any future peace deal, and Likud’s central committee is pushing de facto annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Sa’ar, a star speaker at the party’s central committee meeting, told the group it’s just a matter of time until the settlements become part of Israel. He also praised Trump’s aid threat, made in response to the Palestinian Authority rejection of the U.S. as a peace broker following the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.
“I believe President Trump sees that the Palestinian leadership is not only incapable of being a partner for peace, it is not able to cope with basic progress toward peace,” Sa’ar told Bloomberg.
Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi condemned Trump’s threats, saying Palestinian rights are “not for sale.” The U.S. provides hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance to the Palestinians every year.
Trump “has not only violated international law, but he has also single-handedly destroyed the very foundations of peace and condoned Israel’s illegal annexation of the city,” Ashrawi said. “We will not be blackmailed.”
Sa’ar, 51, whose father immigrated to Israel from Argentina, worked in the State Attorney’s office before Netanyahu named him cabinet secretary in 1999. He became one of the most popular figures in Likud and frequently was mentioned as an heir apparent to Netanyahu.
After years of friction with the prime minister, Sa’ar abruptly resigned his cabinet post and parliamentary seat in 2014, saying he wanted to devote more time to his family. The move came a year after his second marriage to newscaster Geula Even and the birth of their son; they now have a second. Sa’ar has two children from his first marriage as well as a grandchild. He announced his return to politics last year, as the police investigations raised doubts about Netanyahu’s grip on power.
Sa’ar acknowledged his positions are at odds with international opinion, but said world opinion is evolving.
“Understanding, as the U.S. president has said lately, that this conflict is not the heart of the regional conflict, is crucial,” he said. “It’s a very, very small and marginal conflict in comparison to the multifront regional war between Shiites and Sunnis.”
While popular among Likud members, Sa’ar has some serious gaps in his political skills and professional resume, said Shmuel Sandler, a Bar Ilan University political scientist. Sa’ar has never held any of the three key ministerial posts considered a stepping stone for prime minister -- defense, finance and foreign affairs, he said.
“He’s a cold fish,” Sandler said. “He doesn’t have a lot of charisma like Netanyahu does.”
Still, Sa’ar is favored to lead Likud if Netanyahu falls, according to a December poll published by Walla News, garnering 24.3 percent support, followed by President Reuven Rivlin with 16.7 percent. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan came in third with 16.2 percent, trailed by Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz with 6.9 percent. The poll size was 500 people, and no margin of error was published.
Leaders of other parties, such as Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home, also have expressed interest in running for prime minister.
As opposition members call on Netanyahu to resign if the police recommend he be indicted, Sa’ar said he will support the prime minister and the Likud-led government.
“We are speaking about a prime minister that was elected by the people, and therefore I don’t think at this stage, if there are police recommendations, it’s a reason for a resignation,” he said. “At the right time I’ll run for prime minister.”