Netanyahu’s dominance threatened as top center-left parties merge

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz agreed to run on a joint list in the coming elections, strengthening their chances to overcome Netanyahu’s leadership.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

In the most important development of Israel’s election season so far, two center-left parties, Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) and Hosen L’Israel (“Israel Resilience”) announced on Thursday that they have formed a united list to compete in the April 9 elections.

The merger enables them to equal, and even surpass, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in terms of number of seats they’re expected to win, according to polls.

The leaders agreed to lead on a rotational basis should they win the elections. Gantz would become prime minister for the first two years. Lapid would then take over in that role for a year and a half.

The top four in the united list will be Gantz, Lapid, Moshe Yaalon, and Gaby Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief-of-staff who was courted by a number of parties, is a newcomer. The revelation that he joined the Gantz-Lapid list was made simultaneously with the merger announcement.

Party advisers handled the nitty-gritty of the negotiations which went on throughout Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning with a statement about the merger coming just after dawn. Yair Lapid posted a picture of himself with Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi.

From left to right: Moshe Yaalon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Gaby Ashkenazi (Instagram/Yair Lapid)

“United. This is how national responsibility appears. Because it’s time to change,” Lapid captioned the picture. Gantz also published it on his Facebook page with the caption:” United. Yair, Bogey, Gabi. For us, Israel is first of all. ”

As Gantz also served as IDF chief-of-staff, the list presents a strong defense pedigree. “This new governing party will present a new team of security and social leaders that will ensure the security of the nation and reunite the fractured elements of Israeli society,” their statement said.

Tamar Zandberg, leader of the extreme left-wing Meretz party, praised the move. “Congratulations to the unification of the center that will serve as an alternative to the Likud. In the face of an extreme Right-wing Kahanist government, a left-center government is needed. And a clear left in this government is Meretz,” she said.

Parties on the right quickly attacked the union. The Likud said in response, “This is a clear choice: Lapid-Ganz’s left-wing government, with the support of a preventive bloc of the Arab parties, or a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu.”

The religious Shas party also weighed in. It has longed viewed Lapid as a foe for his support of enforced military conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“This merger is dangerous to Judaism. Gantz, who supports civil marriage and transportation on Shabbat, is a friend of Lapid whose hatred of Judaism and religion is his pillar,” the Shas statement said. “Jewish identity in the State of Israel is in danger and we will fight with all our might to prevent them from forming a government.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the New Right party said, “Three chiefs of staff in one cockpit is not something that flies in the right direction, and this isn’t even taking into account the ideological incoherence that characterizes this list.”

Curiously, Labor MK Shelli Yachimovitch echoed Shaked’s words, “Israeli politics has never seen such a party that is so vague and lacks ideology, a murky hybrid created and established in advertising offices. What are their positions on the issue of the two states? Are they social democrats or capitalists? Will they sit with Netanyahu?”

The right-wing parties are clearly worried about the Gantz-Lapid merger. In its wake, New Right party leader Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to pull into his own list those parties that look like they will cost the right votes by failing to surpass the electoral threshold.

He cited specifically Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.