Former army chief of staff Benny Gantz turned down an offer from Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay to take his spot at the top of the opposition party’s Knesset faction, Israeli television reported Tuesday, as center-left parties looked for allies to mount a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an interview Monday with Channel 10, Gabbay said he would not forfeit his place atop the Zionist Union’s electoral list. However, according to the channel, he later told associates he offered Gantz the top spot but was rebuffed.
Recent polls have predicted the center-left Zionist Union, which currently is the second largest Knesset faction, could fall to 9 seats in the next elections, leading to grumbling that Gabbay should step aside in favor of a candidate who could pick up more votes. Polls have shown that Gantz teaming up with a center-left party could challenge Likud, which is consistently predicted to win around 30 seats.
The Zionist Union leader, a newcomer to the Labor party who nonetheless won the faction’s leadership last year, has publicly rejected calls to step down and on Monday asserted that the early elections called for April will be a contest between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gabbay heads the Labor Party, which along with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua makes up the Zionist Union faction.
Gantz has emerged as a dark horse as the election campaigns kick off, with polls indicating either the Zionist Union or centrist Yesh Atid could present a close challenge to Netanyahu’s Likud if Gantz were to join one of their ranks.
Though he has yet to publicly announce his intentions, reports have said Gantz will establish his own party, a decision expected to further split the opposition vote and help the right-wing Likud to finish far ahead of its electoral rivals.
In a bid to forge a united front against Netanyahu, Livni called Tuesday for the opposition to join forces.
“All of us need to put our ego aside for the shared goal which is a political revolution,” Livni, who acts as opposition leader in the Knesset, said at an event held by the Israel Democracy Institute and Interdisciplinary Center.
“The only way to win is to join forces,” she added.
Further possibly jumbling the opposition vote to Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon announced earlier Tuesday he would form a new party to run in April’s elections, while former prime minister Ehud Barak said Monday he may resurrect his political career if a center-left political bloc were formed to challenge the premier.