Embattled Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay on Wednesday admitted that Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, and his new party will not unite with Labor in a bid to oust the prime minister and his Likud party in the upcoming elections.
In a speech at a Kibbutz Movement conference at the Dead Sea, Gabbay said that he tried to convince Gantz to run on his list, but “as is his right, he chose to start in a different way,” Hadashot TV news reported.
“We are in a political period like no other, new parties are emerging every day and trying to tell us a new story,” Gabbay said.
“Last year I tried and I am still trying to connect these parties,” he added, then called on Gantz’s Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to pledge not to sit in a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gabbay’s speech came as Labor MK Mickey Rosenthal announced he wouldn’t be running in April’s elections after six years in the Knesset, saying that he is “resigning from party politics but not from the Israeli public.”
Gabbay on Friday urged Gantz and Lapid to join up with Labor ahead of the upcoming elections, in order to oust Netanyahu, but stressed that he would insist on being the leader of any such alliance and that he was confident of being Israel’s next prime minister.
Gabbay last week broke up the Zionist Union, Labor’s alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, humiliating Livni by announcing the move on live television in her presence without having informed her in advance.
Rather than boost Labor in opinion polls, the split has reduced the party’s expected showing to only seven or eight seats in the April 9 elections. In the outgoing Knesset, the Zionist Union holds 24 seats.
In several television interviews on Friday evening, Gabbay shrugged off criticism, including from within his own party, over the manner in which he ditched Livni, and professed to remain confident of winning the elections. Netanyahu’s Likud is polling at around 30 seats — the same number it won in the 2015 elections — and current surveys all show the various right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties together heading for another Knesset majority.
Still, a Channel 10 news poll released on Tuesday found that when presented with a choice between Netanyahu and Gantz as prime minister, 41 percent of the public chose Netanyahu while 38% picked Gantz.
When asked to choose between Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Netanyahu won 45% of the vote while Lapid got 29%.
Gabbay also shrugged off the threat of a rebellion against him within Labor, promising Hadashot TV, “I’ll head the Labor Party come what may” in the elections, and answering, “I indeed believe so,” when he was asked whether he expects to be Israel’s next prime minister.
Gabbay charged that bizarre developments were occurring in Israel under Netanyahu, saying, for instance, that “the prime minister is afraid of the hilltop youth” — in reference to controversy surrounding last week’s evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement outpost.
Gantz has not yet set out his political platform, but is widely believed to intend to stake out a centrist position. Channel 10 news reported that he may seek to partner with former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, another former chief of staff who has set up his own new party, but that such an alliance was being delayed by a series of demands that Ya’alon was making of Gantz.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was reported by the Kan public broadcaster to be interested in building an alliance with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. However, resistance within Likud would only make this feasible if parties in the center and center-left were to build alliances that posed a threat to Likud. Were that to happen, Kan said, Netanyahu would seek to merge the parties and arrange safe seats on the Likud Knesset slate for Kahlon and Liberman.