Ex-IDF chief said to make demands of parties as he mulls Knesset run

TV report says Gadi Eisenkot wants to join a ‘ruling party’ that holds internal primaries, amid talks on joining Yesh Atid or Blue and White

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot attends the INSS conference in Tel Aviv on April 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot attends the INSS conference in Tel Aviv on April 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Former military chief Gadi Eisenkot has issued a series of demands to Yesh Atid and Blue and White, Israeli television reported Friday, as he nears a decision on whether to join one of the centrist parties ahead of the upcoming general elections.

According to Channel 12 news, Eisenkot has clarified to the parties that he is seeking the formation of a broad unity government after the November 1 vote. He also reportedly said he wants a coalition that “relies on a central governing body” rather than a small party, which could pose a problem for Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White based on recent polling.

The report added that Eisenkot told Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Gantz that he wants whichever faction he joins to be a “ruling party” that holds internal primaries for its electoral slate, which neither Yesh Atid nor Blue and White currently do.

Lapid struck a more enthusiastic tone than Gantz regarding the prospect of primaries and said Yesh Atid has already begun the process to do so, according to the network.

The TV report, which did not cite any source, also said Eisenkot has not ruled out teaming up with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who announced last month that his New Hope party will run together with Blue and White in the elections.

Eisenkot, who is considered a potentially influential candidate, is expected to announce his decision in the coming week, with some polls indicating that he could boost support for whichever party he joins. The retired general, who succeeded Gantz as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff in 2015, was courted by parties ahead of previous elections in recent years but ultimately decided not to run then.

Defense Benny Gantz, left, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attend a plenary session at the assembly of the Knesset, June 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Separately Friday, Channel 12 said that Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana has made demands of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to stick with her in the elections.

According to the TV report, Kahana is demanding that Shaked agree to support a unity government in which former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will serve as premier second under any rotation agreement.

Shaked reportedly rejected the demands, with talks between the two continuing.

Both Kahana and Shaked were close allies of former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who handed over control of his Yamina party to Shaked after his government collapsed in June and Yair Lapid took over as prime minister. Bennett is not running in the upcoming elections and Shaked has since merged Yamina with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz to form Zionist Spirit.

Kahana has publicly called on Shaked to rule out a “narrow” right-wing government led by Netanyahu and called for the formation of a broad coalition. Shaked has also expressed support for a unity government but has refused to close the door on cooperating with Netanyahu, a position on which she and Hendel appear at odds.

Yamina leader and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked meets with senior Yamina MK and Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana to discuss the future of the party. (Courtesy Office of Matan Kahana)

According to polls conducted Monday by Channels 12 and 13 and the Kan broadcaster, the bloc that supports Netanyahu — the Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism — would garner 59 seats, two short of the majority needed to form a government.

At the same time, according to Channel 12 and Kan, the anti-Netanyahu bloc — Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Meretz and Ra’am — would get just 55 seats, six short of a majority. The Channel 13 poll found that the anti-Netanyahu bloc would get 51 seats and Zionist Spirit would receive four seats. Both Channel 12 and Kan had Shaked’s party failing to clear the electoral threshold.

Israeli TV polls are notably unreliable, but nevertheless, often steer the decision-making of politicians.

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