Labor party leader Avi Gabbay on Monday said party leaders would “stand in line” to join a future government under his leadership, amid public pledges by some right-wing leaders never to sit in a Gabbay-led coalition.
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon over the weekend said in TV interviews that they would never join a coalition helmed by Gabbay, casting doubts on the Labor party chairman’s chances of ever mustering enough seats to form a coalition.
Hitting back, Gabbay said the statements indicated the politicians were “afraid” of his rise and public appeal. He said he was “encouraged” by the public criticism, as it underlined concerns that he posed a significant challenge to their leadership.
When the time comes, “I promise you they will all stand in line” to join my coalition, said Gabbay at the start of the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting.
On Sunday evening, Gabbay lambasted Liberman as a promoter of government corruption.
“When we win 30 seats [in elections], everyone will want to be a part of our coalition,” he said.
“They’re afraid, and I can understand them,” Gabbay told Channel 2. “The only thing they’ve achieved is to give the public the correct notion that the next government will be a center-left one led by myself.”
He added that “Liberman is the last person I will turn to in order to form a coalition. He promotes corruption…in everything he and his party touch.”
As for Kahlon, Gabbay said he was very willing to share a ruling coalition with him. He added that if Kahlon was promising not to join him, but was willing to sit under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “anyone who votes for Kahlon is effectively voting for Netanyahu.”
Liberman had told Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2 News) that “Avi Gabbay is an irrelevant person. There are at least two parties, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu, that would never join a Gabbay coalition.
“He can’t have a coalition when both of those parties are not involved,” Liberman said. “He doesn’t stand a chance.”
Gabbay, who helped Kahlon found Kulanu and later served as environment minister, resigned from his post and quit the party last year in protest of the coalition deal with Yisrael Beytenu that made Liberman defense minister. He later won the leadership primary in the Labor Party.
In a separate interview with Hadashot news, Kahlon said that his party would not sit in a Zionist Union-led government.
Kahlon cited his differences with the Zionist Union over the future of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a future peace deal, saying that, unlike the left-leaning party, he supports, “the Land of Israel and a unified Jerusalem” and that therefore, “Kulanu will not join a left-wing Labor government.”
Despite Labor’s traditional support for evacuating West Bank settlers under a future deal with the Palestinians, Gabbay said last month he would not uproot settlements under a peace agreement, raising hackles from lawmakers from the Zionist Union.
Gabbay’s comments were part of an ongoing rightward shift in Labor that has intensified since he was elected party leader in July, as part of a bid to pick up support from centrist voters.
Gabbay also said he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint List, the 13-member Arab party.
Without the Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu, Gabbay would struggle to form a governing coalition, as the right-wing Likud and Jewish Home parties appear unlikely to join a Labor-led government, while Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party has placed ahead of the Zionist Union in polls and may buck at playing second fiddle.