Blue and White’s Ashkenazi says his party could partner with Ehud Barak

Former army chief says he has no problem with his one-time rival, day after reports suggest ex-PM pushing for partnership with Benny Gantz’s centrist alliance

Ehud Barak, left, and Gabi AshkenazI, right. (Flash90)
Ehud Barak, left, and Gabi AshkenazI, right. (Flash90)

Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi said on Saturday that his party had not ruled out partnering with former prime minister and Labor Party head Ehud Barak for the upcoming September elections, despite a history of bad blood between the two ex-army chiefs.

In an interview broadcast Saturday on Channel 12, Ashkenazi said, “We wouldn’t have a problem sitting with him in the same party. We’re not ruling anything out. There’s no rivalry between us, we share the same goal.”

Barak on Wednesday announced his reentry into politics with the formation of a new political party.

The comments came after reports Friday that Barak was pushing for an alliance of center-left factions that would also include the Blue and White party.

Barak’s envisioned tie-up, which was reported by Channel 12 and the Kan public broadcaster, would comprise his still-unnamed party, Labor, Meretz, and Blue and White.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a press conference announcing his return to politics ahead of national elections in September, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Blue and White party was reportedly wary of the proposal, fearing it could hurt its ability to attract right-wing voters.

“Barak’s reentry into politics is no surprise. He’s been warming up on the sidelines for the past few years,” said Ashkenazi, who is No.4 on the Blue and White slate. “I welcome everyone who comes to contribute to the country.”

He said Barak’s return would not come at Blue and White’s expense, emphasizing that the alliance headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid was a centrist party, and not left-wing.

“We brought in 35 seats  in the 120-member Knesset] in only two months. That’s an extraordinary achievement and we were a step away from taking control,” Ashkenazi said. “The public will judge what Barak brings to the table and what we bring.”

Ashkenazi said that if Barak unified the left, while Blue and White sat firmly in the political center, and the right-wing parties coalesced around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there would be a clear division between the three camps, which he said could be a good development.

As for the bad blood between himself and Barak, Ashkenazi said it was water under the bridge.

“I left it in the past. I’m not stuck in the past. I’m only looking forward. I came here to serve the country,” he said. “I have no problem sitting with Barak and talking with him.”

The animosity between the two came to a head in 2010 in the so-called Harpaz affair, when Barak was defense minister and Ashkenazi army chief of staff.

Then defense minister Ehud Barak (R) and then IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi at a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 16, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Declaring Netanyahu’s political career to be over, Barak on Wednesday announced the establishment of his new unnamed party, which will run in the September 17 election.

Barak appeared at a press conference in Tel Aviv with his new political partners: former Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, law professor Yifat Biton and entrepreneur Kobi Richter.

“We have come here today to announce the establishment of a new party that will work to reform the country and society… This is not the time to remain sitting on the sidelines,” Barak said.

“Bibi, this is your last chance to go home on your own,” he continued, imploring the prime minister — who is facing pending charges in three corruption cases — not to plunge the country into “chaos” in order to “save yourself from prison.”

Also Wednesday, Barak said Blue and White lacked the “passion” necessary to convince voters and claimed its leaders weren’t willing to fight hard enough to defeat Netanyahu.

Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He added that in the coming two or three weeks, his party would introduce a more detailed agenda and a list of candidates.

He also said “it is not the size of the party that matters, it is the size of the blocs,” noting Likud and Blue and White each received 35 seats, though Netanyahu easily managed to be tasked with forming the coalition instead of Gantz.

Just hours after Barak announced his comeback, a television poll said his new party would win six seats if national elections were held immediately.

Barak, 77, was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before beating Netanyahu in 1999 to become prime minister.

Following his defeat in 2001 by the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics but returned to lead the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013, he served as defense minister, including four years in Netanyahu’s cabinet.

In 2011, he split with Labor, forming the short-lived Atzmaut party so that he could remain in Netanyahu’s coalition despite the objection of most of Labor. Atzmaut was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.

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