Embattled Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay on Friday urged two other party leaders to join up with Labor ahead of April’s elections, in order to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but stressed that he would insist on being the leader of any such alliance and that he was confident he will be Israel’s next prime minister.
Gabbay this week broke up Labor’s alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party in the Zionist Union partnership, humiliating Livni by announcing the move in front of TV cameras without informing her in advance.
Rather than boosting Labor in opinion polls, however, subsequent surveys have seen Labor heading for only 7-8 seats in the April 9 elections. In the outgoing Knesset, the Zionist Union won 24 seats.
In several television interviews on Friday evening, Gabbay shrugged off criticism, including from within his own party, for the cruel manner in which he ditched Livni, and professed to remain confident of winning the elections. This even though 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 are together heading for another Knesset majority.
Gabbay urged Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff who has just launched the Israel Resilience Party, and Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid, to join up with Labor to face down Netanyahu and the Likud.
“I call on Gantz, who is a wonderful person, and I call on Yair Lapid, an excellent person: Friends, pledge that you won’t sit in a government with Netanyahu,” Gabbay urged in a Hadashot TV interview. “Don’t take the votes of people who want change and go there.”
Instead, he pleaded, “let’s together set up a coalition of change, a coalition of people who believe it’s possible to change what’s going on here.”
It is highly unlikely that either of these party leaders will join forces formally with Labor before the election, since that would reduce their appeal and political strength. Rendering the notion even less likely, Gabbay stressed to Kan TV that he would insist on heading any such union. “Don’t rule out mergers,” he said, adding, however, that in any merger, “I’ll be the number one.”
He 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 asserted 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 Thursday’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 the 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 is making of Gantz.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was reported by Kan to be interested in building an alliance with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. However, resistance within the Likud would only make this feasible if parties in the center and center-left were to build alliances that potentially threatened the 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.
Liberman quit as defense minister in November 2018, castigating Netanyahu for failing to launch a fierce offensive against Hamas after a two-day escalation of rocket fire into Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Liberman’s departure helped prompt the calling of early elections, since the coalition shrank to just 61 of the 120 members of Knesset when he bolted with his Yisrael Beytenu party, and a rapid return to any kind of formal alliance with Netanyahu would appear improbable.
Netanyahu was also reported by Kan on Friday to have commissioned surveys to determine whether yet another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, would attract a significant number of votes to the Likud, and to have concluded that he would not.
The same conclusion was reportedly reached regarding Gal Hirsch, a former IDF general and one-time candidate for police chief who is under investigation for alleged illicit business dealings and has announced he plans to run for the Knesset.
Hadashot TV said Ashkenazi might join Gantz’s slate, but only if he becomes convinced it has a realistic chance of defeating Netanyahu.