Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience swap MKs

Knesset panel okays breakup of Blue and White; Gantz keeps the name

Yesh Atid and Telem separate from centrist faction while rightist MKs Hendel and Hauser split off to form new faction

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee meets to approve the breakaway of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions from the centrist Blue and White party, March 29, 2020. (Knesset)
The Knesset Arrangements Committee meets to approve the breakaway of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions from the centrist Blue and White party, March 29, 2020. (Knesset)

The Knesset Arrangement Committee on Sunday officially approved the breakup of the Blue and White alliance, voting to allow the Yesh Atid and Telem factions to break away from the centrist party and for various MKs from each faction to switch allegiances ahead of an imminent unity government deal that has rearranged the political arena.

On Thursday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was elected Knesset speaker in a shock move, setting the stage for a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leading to the splintering of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on ousting Netanyahu due to his indictment on graft charges.

Following the move, the Yesh Atid and Telem factions, headed respectively by Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, filed a formal request to break away from Blue and White, leaving only Gantz’s faction to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc.

The Arrangements Committee, in allowing the split to go ahead, voted to approve a number of requests: for Yesh Atid and Telem to splinter off from Blue and White; for Telem MKs Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel to leave the party and form their own faction, to be called Derech Eretz, which will work as a united faction with Blue and White; and for Blue and White MK Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh to leave for Yesh Atid, and Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shatta to to leave for Blue and White.

Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz speak to supporters in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The aftermath of the moves leaves Blue and White-Derech Eretz with 17 MKs and Yesh Atid-Telem with 16. Gantz’s faction — originally called Israel Resilience — was given approval to keep using the Blue and White party name.

Lapid and Ya’alon have categorically rejected entering a unity government with Likud as long as it is headed by Netanyahu. Both have harshly criticized Gantz for breaking up their alliance, with Lapid excoriating him during a press conference with Ya’alon on Thursday for “crawling” into a coalition of “extremists and extortionists.”

Countering the criticism, Gantz and his colleagues in Blue and White say that the only alternative to joining a Netanyahu-led coalition would have been a fourth round of elections and that a stable government is needed to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Following Sunday’s committee votes, the new Yesh Atid-Telem faction said it will serve Israelis proudly from the opposition.

“Yesh Atid-Telem will continue on the path for which it entered politics. From the opposition, we will fight for the citizens of Israel and protect Israel’s democracy. Simultaneously, we will all work together to help the public get through the coronavirus crisis. The crisis isn’t being managed well. The economy is collapsing and decisions aren’t being carried out,” the party said in its first joint statement.

“We will be a clear and loud voice for the millions of Israelis who love this country but are fearful for its future. We will keep a watchful eye over the work of this government and create a real alternative for the State of Israel. We will fight against the slippery slope that leads us to a corrupt government that tramples our democracy,” the statement said.

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