Labor party chief says ‘time has come for elections’

Claiming coalition torn over whether to go to polls, Avi Gabbay says Israelis need a ‘focused government’ to handle regional tensions

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay on Monday urged the government to call new elections for the sake of political stability.

“In the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing about a conflict in the coalition: On the one hand the prime minister wants to call elections as soon as possible, and on the other, the party leaders prefer elections on schedule,” Gabbay claimed during the weekly meeting of his Zionist Union faction. “In this debate, I agree with the prime minister: The time has come for elections.”

“We all see the tensions in Gaza, in the Golan Heights” and in Lebanon, added Gabbay. “In this atmosphere, the people of Israel need a focused government and not one that is dealing solely with whether or not elections will be held.

“Therefore, I call on the coalition leaders from here: The time has come for elections,” he said.

The next election is currently scheduled for November 2019, and Netanyahu has not openly acknowledged any interest in calling a snap vote.

Gabbay, who is not a sitting MK, has positioned himself as a challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud.

While recent polls have indicated Likud would still be the largest party if elections were held, it would have difficulty cobbling together the 61 seats needed to form a coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 12, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

Gabbay, however, would also encounter roadblocks if tasked to form a government. He has ruled out sitting in a coalition with the Joint List, the 13-member Arab party; and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) vowed earlier this month not to serve in a government headed by Gabbay.

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 has placed ahead of the Zionist Union in polls and may buck at playing second fiddle.

Gabbay’s call for fresh elections and Likud’s slight dip in the polls come as Netanyahu is being  directly investigated in two corruption probes. Meanwhile, a host of his close associates have been implicated in a third probe looking into the allegedly illicit purchase of naval vessels from Germany.

Netanyahu was grilled by police last week for over four hours in the investigations, which involve suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests.

A day after the interrogation, Channel 10 reported that senior law enforcement officials have concluded there is sufficient evidence to file an indictment against him on charges of bribery, citing an unofficial police opinion according to which the evidence that has accumulated against Netanyahu is robust.

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